Mad Cow, Bird Flu and, now, Ebola. And, while not as widely publicized, there are other hazards out there that we have to watch for, like diseases brought on by E. coli from beef, Salmonella in poultry, and Listeria in pork.
So how can we protect ourselves from bad meat?
The easiest way is to keep ourselves informed; read, watch, and listen to the news. If there is an urgent need for meat recalls, information on bad meat and quarantine issues, the news bureaus will get the information out. We also need to keep ourselves educated so we can differentiate exaggerated information from relevant fact. News sometimes tends to get hyped and blown out of proportion—especially on a slow news day—so we need to see through the embellishments.
Recent Meat Contagions
Mad Cow Disease or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopaphy (BSE) is a degenerative and fatal disease that affects adult cattle. In humans, there is a similar disease called Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease (CJD), which is believed to be caused by consuming meat from animals with BSE.
Recently, the Health Protection Agency in the UK announced that a man got CJD via blood plasma transfusion from an infected individual. This created quite a stir, leading to the regional branding of meat (Australian Meat, New Zealand Meat, etc.) in the last decade.
Bird Flu or Avian Influenza is another animal disease that can be transmitted to humans. It was previously thought to be not fatal to man—until the first recorded fatality took place in Vietnam.
The Ebola Reston Virus is a very close relative of the deadly Ebola Virus you see in the movies. However, this type of virus seems to affect only pigs and will unlikely affect humans. But this recently led to the culling of hundreds of pig heads in the Philippines, creating a relative undersupply in Metro Manila that also affected provinces as far south as Misamis Oriental.
How to Get Good Meat
Preventing diseased meat from entering the market is the role of several international and local institutions and government bodies. Although some bad meat gets through these watchdogs every now and then, they do flag many things they’re supposed to. When buying meats, buy only from legitimate sources, businesses, and individuals who can show you documents that they are registered with the proper authorities and have their products certified.
Yes, the person selling meat around the corner can give it to you cheap (as much as 50% less), but should you risk your life? You may spend more on a purchase from a legitimate retailer but, at least, legit vendors can show you a Meat Inspection Certificate.
A Meat Inspection Certificate indicates that both meat and vendor have met the conditions set by the National Meat Inspection Commission. It also means the meat you buy is from accredited sources.
You may also look for the National Meat Inspection Service stamp on the meat. However, note that this stamp mark is small and is put on the outside of a whole carcass. Once the meat is sliced into retail cuts, you may no longer see any sign of this mark.
One other advantage of buying meat from legitimate sources is that they too source from legitimate abattoirs or slaughter houses. Legit abattoirs use humane methods of slaughter. When done by professionals, the slaughter of animals for meat is done quickly with minimal stress on the animal. When done by people with almost no experience or training, it can get very cruel.
Keeping Meat Safe
There is a popular misconception that eating questionable meat is okay since it’s going to be washed and cooked anyway. But it really isn’t true that this removes or kills all the germs. Washing does remove bacteria and other harmful things on the meat, but it can only do so on the surface. The bacteria that have grown inside the meat will remain.
Cooking does kill germs, and quite effectively, but bacteria die in a very interesting pattern. They don’t die all at once. The more of them there are, the longer you need to cook the meat in order to kill most of them. So boiling for one hour may not be enough if you have a lot of germs in your meat.
Another interesting thing about bacteria is that some of them produce toxins while they are alive. Even after they die the poisons they produced will still be there; and some of these toxins cannot be destroyed by temperatures generated during regular cooking.
Print ed: 04/09