Why is it Legal to Sell Unsafe Meat?
Most of the U.S. population suffers an acute diarrheal illness every year. According to a recent survey, most people correctly identified food as the most common source of infection, but fewer than half (45%) believed it legal for grocery stores to sell meat with food-poisoning bacteria on it. You can’t sell unsafe cars; you can’t sell unsafe toys; how could they possibly sell unsafe meat?
They do it by blaming the consumer. I quote one USDA poultry microbiologist in my 2-min. video Unsafe at Any Feed: “I think the consumer has the most responsibility but refuses to accept it,” he said. “Raw meats are not idiot-proof. They can be mishandled and when they are, it’s like handling a hand grenade. If you pull the pin, somebody’s going to get hurt.”
So it’s our fault if we get sick. That’s like a car company knowingly selling cars with faulty brakes and then blaming tragedies on parents for not putting their kids in rear-facing car seats. For more on the risks of handling fresh meat, see my 3-min. video Food Poisoning Bacteria Cross-Contamination.
Patricia Griffin, director of Epidemiological Research at the Centers for Disease Control responded famously to this kind of blame-the-victim attitude. “Is it reasonable,” she asked, ‘“that if a consumer under cooks a hamburger…their three-year-old dies?”
Some may question the wisdom of selling hand grenades in the supermarket in the first place. In Sweden, for example, it’s illegal to sell chicken contaminated with Salmonella, the leading cause of food poisoning deaths in the United States. It’s illegal to sell a product that could kill or cripple our children—what a concept! In my 4 min. video Fecal Bacteria Survey I feature an article in a meat industry trade publication that quotes an Alabama poultry science professor saying banning infected poultry is a “hard-handed” policy. He said: “The fact is that it’s too expensive not to sell salmonella-positive chicken….”
Can you imagine a toy manufacturer saying, “Sorry, we’d love to pull unsafe toys off the market but such a large percentage of our toys are hazardous that it would cost us too much”?
For other surveys on how much of the American meat supply is contaminated with fecal matter and foodborne pathogens see Fecal Contamination of Sushi, Fecal Residues on Chicken, Chicken Out of UTIs, U.S. Meat Supply Flying at Half Staph, and MRSA in U.S. Retail Meat. Salmonella-infected eggs also sicken more than 100,000 Americans every year (see Total Recall).
For questionable steps the meat industry is taking to mediate the threat see my videos Viral Meat Spray and Maggot Meat Spray. In Zero Tolerance to Acceptable Risk, the fish and chicken industries propose moving from a zero tolerance policy on certain dangerous foodborne pathogens to an “acceptable risk” policy given how widely contaminated their products are with potentially deadly fecal bacteria.
-Michael Greger, M.D.
Image Credit: Mat_the_W / Flickr