Don’t Flush the Facts, or that Buger


by Mayzie Purviance

Picture this: you’re sitting in your favorite booth at your favorite diner.  You order a bacon cheeseburger, extra mayo.  After patiently waiting for your meal, your server finally brings your burger to you and begins to speak with a hasty grin.  While most servers may say “be careful, this plate is hot,” when setting the meal in front of their customer, this one says something a little inappropriate and incredibly shocking.

“Be careful,” they say, “this burger contains fecal matter.”  You look disgusted and the server smiles politely, “Is there anything else I can get you?” they ask.  You shake your head, they turn around, and walk back to the kitchen.  Fortunately for you, this server was misinformed.  Your burger doesn’t contain any more fecal matter than your clothes, you phone screen, or even your eye lashes.

In 2015, Consumer Reports released an article titled “How Safe Is Your Ground Beef?” which was focused on cooking ground beef at a safe temperature.  However, after publication, this article sparked many headlines connecting ground beef and fecal matter.  Needless to say, the beef industry experienced much controversy over this because consumers were captivated by catchy headlines such as “There Is Poop in Basically All Hamburger Meat.”

After its moment in the limelight, this topic died down but was brought up again on February 2, 2020, the day of Super Bowl LIV.

Impossible Foods, an alternative protein company whose claim to fame is the Impossible Whopper at Burger King, released a commercial in response to the Center For Consumer Freedom’s (CCF) commercial.

The CCF’s commercial showed a child on stage at a spelling bee who was asked to spell “methylcellulose,” which, as defined in the commercial, “is a chemical laxative that is also used in synthetic meat.”

This commercial went on to explain the dangers of consuming the ingredients in alternative protein products in an attempt to inform consumers of what they’re eating.

Impossible Foods fired back with a similar commercial: a child standing on stage at a spelling bee being asked to spell the word “poop.”  Impossible Foods Founder and CEO Pat Brown, casted as the spelling bee caller, then gives a long speech about fecal matter and finishes his rant with “… and there’s poop… in the ground beef we make from cows.”

These claims, although originally released five years ago and recently discussed again less than a week ago, are debunked in a January 11, 2020 Beef 2 Live article by Lindsay Chinchester, an Extension Educator in Nebraska.

“Meat or hamburger are often demonized, but it should be noted that ALL foods (plant and animal based) have the potential to make you sick,” Chinchester wrote.

She referenced the original article published by Consumer Reports and said, “As is the case with sensational headlines, bits and pieces of the article were cherry picked and the good information did not make headlines.”

“All 458 pounds of beef we examined contained bacteria that signified fecal contamination (enterococcus and/or nontoxin-producing E. coli), which can cause blood or urinary tract infections.  Almost 20 percent contained C. perfringens, a bacteria that causes almost 1 million cases of food poisoning annually.  Ten percent of the samples had a strain of S. aureus bacteria that can produce a toxin that can make you sick.  That toxin can’t be destroyed – even with proper cooking,” Consumer Reports wrote.

Interestingly enough, nowhere in Consumer Reports’ finding does it mention the words “fecal matter,” or any other phrase eluding to such.  What Consumer Reports did find, however, was E. coli.

  1. coli is a common bacteria found on literally everything. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), E. coli normally live in the intestines of people and animals. Most E. coli are harmless and actually are an important part of a healthy human intestinal tract.

“What Consumer Reports found were bacteria that are commonly found in the environment, so it is no surprise to find them in beef, blueberries, anywhere else in a grocery store, or on your computer keyboard or phone,” North American Meat Institute Vice President of Sustainability Eric Mittenthal said.  “That doesn’t mean there’s fecal matter on your phone, just that bacteria that once originated in a gastrointestinal tract is there.  Simply put, they are different.  For media to claim otherwise is simply inaccurate and misleading.”

Microbiologist and Director of Texas A&M University’s Center for Food Safety Dr. Gary Acuff expanded on this topic of “a fecal indicator.”  He said a fecal indicator does not mean feces is actually present — it does, however, mean the bacteria was originally associated with a gastrointestinal tract and may indicate a pathogen would could potentially produce E. coli.

So next time you read a headline proclaiming, “Your Ground Beef is Probably Contaminated by Poop,” don’t throw your tacos or spaghetti away — just do some extra research.

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