Setting aside the larger issues of why it took government so long to inform the public about the contaminated meat from XL Foods, there’s another area that could be better explained to the public.
Many people really don’t have a handle on food safety, particularly when it comes to meat. Who hasn’t peered in a container of leftovers and done the sniff test to decide if it’s desirable, instead of labelling it by date and throwing it out once it’s past its prime?
E. coli, the bacteria at the root of the recall, naturally occurs in the gastrointestinal tract of animals. It can be transmitted to humans through direct contact with the animal, by ingesting contaminated meat or via contact with the fecal matter of a sick person.
Meat can become contaminated during the slaughter process and as hamburger can be made from parts of different animals, it has a greater risk for contamination.
E. coli, which has no taste or smell, can make people gut-wrenchingly sick — symptoms include vomiting, fever, severe stomach cramps, and bloody or watery diarrhea. Symptoms can show up within a day to 10 days and generally go away on their own within a week.
For some, the elderly and children under five in particular, it can be more serious, leading to kidney failure, seizures, stroke and even death.
But thorough cooking can kill the bacteria, so even if hamburger had E. coli on it, ensuring it is cooked thoroughly (to a temperature of 160 F, according to Health Canada) will render it safe to eat. And use a meat thermometer; checking to see if the burger is still pink is not good enough.
But beef is not the only meat that can be contaminated, E. coli can also be found in pork, lamb and poultry.
So apply the same common sense food-safety practices when cooking your Thanksgiving turkey this holiday weekend — wash your hands and kitchen areas after handling meat so there is no cross-contamination, use a meat thermometer to check that it’s cooked and store the food in the fridge promptly after.
There are an estimated 13 million cases of foodborne illness every year. Avoid becoming one of them.
We Say editorials represent the viewpoint of The Daily News and are written by editor Robert Koopmans, city editor Tracy Gilchrist, news editor Mike Cornell or associate news editors Dan Spark and Mark Rogers.