Sipping a brown ale, I stared at my pink burger while dining at a Boulder. Yes, the burger that was supposed to be cooked to medium doneness. I was surprised that the waiter asked how I wanted my burger cooked. I had hoped by now that rare and medium-rare burgers were off limits in dining establishments. I gingerly picked around the rare parts, considering whether I should ask for a new burger, cooked crispy charred. But we were running late for my stepson's high school play. No time for trepidation, be brave, I told myself. Nonetheless, sitting in downtown Boulder, the bastion of organic and natural foods, I couldn't help but think of a recent study about E. coli and matters fecal in cows of every persuasion: organic, natural and conventional.
In a study published in the August 2009 issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology, researchers at Kansas State University demonstrated the prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 in the feces of organically and naturally raised beef cattle to be similar to that of conventionally produced cattle in prior studies.
These findings suggest that when compared to conventionally raised beef cattle, organic and natural production systems don't affect antibiotic susceptibility of E. coli O157:H7. Although organic and natural beef are popular for their suggested health benefits, little is actually known about possible differences in food-borne pathogens associated with organic and natural versus conventional production methods.
Considering the ongoing reports of E. coli-contaminated ground beef, I am mindful food safety risks exist with ground beef, whether organic, natural or conventional. Cooking all types of ground beef thoroughly should be de rigueur. As I write this 12 hours after dinner, I'm still feeling fine. (However, illness from pathogenic E. coli typically sets in three days after ingestion.) But I'm not sure the restaurant will see me again any time soon.
Update November 12, 2009: Earlier this week the FDA released the 2009 Food Code, "a model code and reference document that provides a scientifically sound technical and legal basis for regulating the retail and food service segment of the food industry." At least one revision to the code is related to the subject at hand:
Serving hamburgers and other ground meats in an undercooked form upon a consumer’s request is no longer an option for items offered on a children’s menu.
(Source FDA press release November, 9, 20009, FDA Issues 2009 Food Code.)
The code applies to conventionally, organically or naturally produced ground meats. Yesterday evening, at another restaurant in Boulder I was, once again, asked by waitstaff how I wanted my burger cooked. Maybe I need to start ordering from the children's menu.