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Beef: Is it safe to eat?

November 8, 2012 by Joanna Drake, Registered Dietitian

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We have a very safe food system in Canada, with numerous built-in safeguards to help protect us. Unfortunately, failures in that system do happen, and occasionally food is sold that is potentially harmful. The most recent notable example is the recall of beef and beef products because they were possibly contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7, a type of harmful bacteria. This particular strain of E. coli can cause serious and potentially life-threatening foodborne illness. This recall prompted a lot of discussion on traditional and social media about the overall safety of beef. People have commented that they are concerned about eating beef going forward. I am troubled by this thinking.

While consumers can and should expect that the food they buy is as free as possible from harmful bacteria, it is impossible to have a risk free system. It’s safer to assume that any fresh food we bring into our homes may be contaminated with bacteria.

This is why we take personal steps to keep our food safe including:

  • Washing our hands with hot soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw food. 
  • Not cutting or handling any raw meat, fish, poultry, or any other raw animal protein on the same cutting board or utensil that you then use to chop or process other foods that are not further cooked, such as a salad or sandwich. 
  • Cooking all meat, fish, poultry and seafood to the minimum internal cooking temperature or hotter. (Check the temperature using clean food thermometer.) This will ensure that any bacteria in the food are killed. 
  • Storing fresh and cooked foods in the fridge or freezer. Store raw meat, poultry, fish and any other raw animal protein below foods that will be eaten uncooked (e.g. vegetables and fruit) to prevent cross-contamination

If harmful bacteria are present in the food, these steps help to limit the possibility that we are going to become ill.

Food safety is everyone’s responsibility - food producers, distributors, retailers and consumers. Consumers are the last point in the farm-to-table chain, and therefore the last point at which we can make our food as safe as possible. Beef is an excellent source of protein, iron, vitamin B12, zinc, and other important nutrients. With industry continuing to monitor its safety (and that of all foods), and proper food safety practices being followed at home, if you ate beef before, there is no reason to stop eating it now.

Recommended Resources:
HealthyFamilies BC: Food Safety – Store it Right
BC Ministry of Health: Caring About Food Safety
Canadian Food Inspection Agency: Your role in food safety
Canadian Food Inspection Agency: Everyday Safe Food Handling Practices

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