The benefits of organic and grass fed beef have been well documented. Numerous studies have shown that organic and grass fed beef has significantly higher levels of Omega 3s and lower levels of saturated fats than conventionally produced beef. But recent studies have cast doubt on the long held wisdom that grass fed beef does not have significant E. Coli contamination issues.
Conventional food wisdom has stated that since it isn’t raised on a feedlot, grass fed beef is less susceptible to E. Coli contamination. Food activists from local food pioneer Michael Pollan to The Organic Consumers Association are among the proponents who vouch for the nutritional and sustainable characteristics of grass fed beef over conventionally produced beef.
The most recent beef recall due to E. Coli contamination (in December, 2009 over 800,000 pounds of beef was recalled by Huntington Meat Packing Inc.) was caused by a particularly virulent strain of E. Coli – O157.H7. The thinking is this strain evolved in the unnaturally acidic stomachs of feedlot cattle that are fed grain based diets, and then stand around in confined, crowded conditions in their own manure, which allows the bacteria to multiply so easily. Grass fed cattle were presumed not to have a similar internal environment for this particular E. Coli strain since they consumed their natural diet of grass, hay and other natural forage.
A recent article though refutes the assumption that E. Coli contamination won’t happen in grass fed beef. Studies have been performed in the past several years have noted that rates of E. Coli in grass fed beef are similar to feedlot cattle. See studies here and here.
Though these studies have largely flown under the radar, it’s important to be aware of them and continue to treat grass fed beef safely – The FDA recommends cooking ground beef to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees to kill any E. Coli that may be present. If you’re not a meat eater, than you don’t have a thing to worry about. But if you are a beef eater, it’s important to realize that the grass fed beef may not be the silver bullet to keep E. Coli at bay.