If you never want to eat another hamburger, read the New York Times’ story about how a young woman (above), a children’s dance instructor, will never walk again because she ate, yes, some ground beef in a bun. The very long story by Michael Moss is about meat inspection and how hamburger is made. Stephanie Smith ate a hamber in the early fall of 2007. The meat was tainted with E. coli and within a week she had suffered from seizures and convulsions so violent that doctors placed her in a coma for nine weeks. When she came to, she was paralyzed. The meat was processed by Cargill.
“Ground beef is usually not simply a chunk of meat run through a grinder,” Moss wrote. “Instead, records and interviews show, a single portion of hamburger meat is often an amalgam of various grades of meat from different parts of cows and even from different slaughterhouses. These cuts of meat are particularly vulnerable to E. coli contamination, food experts and officials say. Despite this, there is no federal requirement for grinders to test their ingredients for the pathogen.” The meat Stephanie ate came from Nebraska, Texas, Uruguay and South Dakota.
Remember, Moss is writing about ground beef that comes prepackaged — not that might be ground at your local meat market. Anyway, our (un)favorite part of the story was the description of “binder,” largely fat and meat scraps companies put together and then treat with ammonia to kill bacteria. It’s then mixed with other ground beef to make the final product fattier and cheaper. If your hamburger smells like a kitchen floor, that’s why.