It’s one thing to discuss potential food-safety issues inherent in preparing raw foods. But according to the profession’s least credible authority, with meat there’s just no upside. Ever.
Most people consuming the “balanced diet” recommended by generations of nutritionists tend to inquire about their dietary choices along the lines of, “So, what are the healthiest food I should be eating?”
Not the haters, though. For anti-industry activists and veggie believers, the question sounds more like, “Which meat product’s the worst?”
And that’s pretty close to the title of an article from our friends as Mother Jones magazine, the lefty pub that regularly takes producers and packers to task for the business they’re in and the foods they sell. Headlining yet another such attack was this query: “Which Cut of Meat Is Least Likely to Make You Sick?”
And while you’re pondering that one, let me ask: What’s the least painful place to kick a dog?
The bad news, according to the story, is that there are many, many meat cuts that will make you very, very sick.
And the good news? According to MJ, there’s none.
“Every time you eat, you’re rolling the germ dice,” was the article’s cheery lead. “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 6 Americans contracts a foodborne illness annually; 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die.”
Of, course, MJ helpfully explained that, “Pathogens from meat kill more people than those from any other food group. A CDC study found that between 1998 and 2008, contaminated meat was responsible for 29 percent of all deaths from foodborne illness.”
It sounds devastating — until your fifth-grade math kicks in to calculate 29 percent of 3,000, which is precisely 870 people. Tragic, certainly, but those deaths represent a mere 0.0000026 percent of the U.S. population. In fact, almost that many people die every couple of months in America just trying to cross the street.
Just as egregious is MJ’s characterization of the fools who insist on including animal foods in their diet. Rather than label them as normal, everyday consumers, here’s how the article refers to 95 percent of the population:
“Most carnivores don’t let the risk of sickness stop them from eating meat — and a lot of it. But here’s the good news: When it comes to foodborne illness, not all meats are equally risky. A few tips for choosing the least germ-ridden cuts.”
Nice. Not only are meat-eaters “ignoring” the ever-present risk of sickness, they need to be informed which cuts are the least “germ-ridden.”
In case you didn’t pick up on that subtle implication, allow me spell it out for you: Meat is diseased.
That’s what “germ-ridden” means. Germs aren’t benign, friendly microbes that just happen to be present on the surfaces of organic matter. Oh, no. Germs are killers. We either kill them (per any of dozens of Lysol commercials), or they kill us.
As if that positioning isn’t outrageous enough, the article then goes on to quote one of the least credible “experts” alive, Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. I know Smith DeWaal styles herself as “the leading consumer analyst on laws and regulations governing food safety” (what a crock!), but she’s responsible for some of the most ridiculous statements on food safety ever uttered, including a strident demand she made in 2004 at an E. coli O157:H7 hearing before the administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service: “Why doesn’t [USDA] demand that industry simply eliminate this pathogen?”
That’s an exact quote, because I was there at that hearing, swiveling around in my chair with mouth open like pretty much everyone else in the room at what was either monumental cluelessness or, as I prefer to believe, a calculated effort to wedge a sound bite into that day’s news feed.
Either way, someone who pretends to be a scientific authority can flush away whatever respect she might have enjoyed with a remark like that.
And that’s not an isolated example, as her comments to Mother Jones proved.
After singling out chicken as the culprit “that sickens more people than any other meat,” Smith DeWaal weighed in with the explanation.
“It’s harder to cook away bacteria in chicken. Chicken has creases and folds in the skin,” she said. “Pathogens can hide in those folds. A lot of other meat doesn’t even come with skin on.”
Let me ask: When was the last time anyone ate rare chicken? With the skin still on? These days, there are only two ways most people eat chicken: Grilled (with the skin off) or deep-fried at temperatures that vaporize any exposed pathogens, much less the ones hiding in the folds of skin.
The remainder of the article goes on to warn about ground beef (“the second riskiest meat”) and steak (“not as safe as it should be”), before offering a back-handed endorsement of pork (“it isn't as dangerous as you thought, [because] we now cook the hell out of it.”), before warning away anyone who might even think about eating processed meats.
“Most of us can eat contaminated cold cuts without getting sick, but for senior citizens and immune-compromised people who contract listeria, the hospitalization rate is 90 percent,” the article declared. “While pregnant women might not show symptoms, [listeria] can attack the fetus, causing miscarriage or stillbirth.”
Okay, so if I understand it correctly, other than a 90 percent chance of hospitalization if a person’s carrying an AARP card, and potential miscarriage or stillbirth if they’re pregnant, we’re good to go with deli meats, right?
Excellent. Thank you, CSPI.
I now know that as long as I avoid chicken, chicken skin, ground beef, steaks, pork chops and processed meats, my risk of sickness and death will be slightly less than it was before reading that enlightening article.
Wait, there’s one additional caveat, just in case you were feeling secure.
“Cooking your meat correctly won’t necessarily prevent you from getting a bug,” the article concluded. “Even if you heat your meat to the proper temperature, the germs it carries can still get onto surfaces in your kitchen, where they can contaminate other food.”
And one last tip from Smith DeWaal: “Never wash meat before cooking, because that will just splatter the germs.”
Consider it done.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.