Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Ground Beef Safety: How Many Cows in One Ground Beef Hamburger?


What is Minced Beef?

Ground beef, beef mince, minced meat, hamburger (in North America) is a ground meat made of beef, finely chopped by a meat grinder. It is simply meat that has been passed through a mincing machine to break it down into smaller pieces. It is used in many recipes including hamburgers and cottage pie. In some parts of the world, a meat grinder is called a mincer. You can mince virtually any type of meat and you’ll find beef, lamb, pork, and turkey mince sold in supermarkets and butcher shops throughout the United States.


Mince Beef vs. Ground Beef: Is Ground Beef the Same as Mince Beef?

Yes, in my experience it is. I usually find North American recipes use the term ground beef while European recipes use minced beef, or just plain mince. Minced beef must be cooked to 72 °C (160 °F) to ensure that all bacterial contamination, whether it be endogenous to the product or contaminated after purchasing by the consumer, is killed. Cooked color does not always indicate the beef has reached the required temperature, as beef can brown before reaching 68 °C (155 °F).

Read the quick guide to cooking your favorite meat at... The Physics of Cooking Meat

How Many Cows in One Ground Beef Hamburger?

A pound of minced beef can contain the meat from up to 400 different cows. Ever since the discovery of mad cow disease or BSE, people have been understandably worried about the possibility of eating infected meat. Government agencies have been making strenuous efforts to make sure that BSE and other germs don’t get into the beef we eat. There’s every sign that the campaign to eliminate BSE, at least, has been partially successful, but there’s no reason for complacency – and there are at least possibilities that other germs may contaminate the meat we consume. The problem is to do with changes in the way beef is produced, especially the minced beef used in hamburgers.

Most beef cattle may start life on ranches, but they soon move to gigantic feedlots where 100,000 or more cows are packed into a small area and fattened with grain and other less savory food ready for slaughter. Eric Schlosser, author of the book Fast Food Nation, describes conditions on these feedlots as ‘like living in a medieval city, in their own manure’. Often these feedlots are right next to huge slaughterhouses and meat-processing houses, where hundreds of cows are slaughtered every hour and then ground into minced beef in an almost continual process. The slaughter rate is so fast that mistakes can easily be made, and manure can get on the meat as the animal is eviscerated, and infect it. With this massive concentration, too, there are huge possibilities for cross-contamination, especially when all the meat is fed into a gigantic global meat-packaging system.

You might think that all the meat in a small hamburger might come from a single cow. Marion Nestle, Professor of Public Health at New York University, points out that in one study, the meat in a single pound of minced beef could be traced to 400 different cows reared in six different states in the United States. So the chances of traces of pathogens getting into each helping of meat are massively multiplied, while at the same time the difficulties of tracing any outbreak of disease back to its source are correspondingly large.

Aware of the public relations danger of any outbreak of food poisoning, fast food buyers like McDonald’s make tough demands on the meat-packagers for testing meat for pathogens. Yet, of course, it’s the demands of big buyers like these, too, that has helped lead to the rise of the industrial feedlots. Today, just four big corporations, such as Tysons, control 85% of the beef market.

What is Pink Slime in Ground Meat?

Beef Products Inc. is the creator of a product called "lean finely textured beef," also known as "pink slime." Pink slime is the common name for a controversial beef product. The name used in the meat industry is lean finely textured beef (LFTB) and boneless lean beef trimmings (BLBT). It has been mocked by the dysphemistic slang term soylent pink. Pink slime has been claimed by some originally to have been used as pet food and cooking oil and later approved for public consumption, however this is disputed by the FDA administrator responsible for approving the product, as well as by Beef Products, Inc., the largest U.S. producer. In 2001, The United States approved the product for limited human consumption and it was used as a food additive to ground beef and beef-based processed meats as a filler at a ratio of usually no more than 25 percent of any product. The production process uses heat in centrifuges to separate the fat from the meat in beef trimmings. The resulting product is exposed to ammonia gas or citric acid to kill bacteria.

Watch Video: CNN- McDonald's sets record straight on what's in a Mc Nuggets

Watch Video: McDonald's Pink Slime

What Goes Into the Minced Beef?

In many countries, food laws define specific categories of ground beef and what they can contain. For example, in the United States, beef fat may be added to hamburger, but not to ground beef if the meat is ground and packaged at a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-inspected plant. For example in the USA, a maximum of 30% fat by weight is allowed in either hamburger or ground beef. The allowable amount in France is 5 to 20% (15% being used by most food chains). Both hamburger and ground beef can have seasonings, but no water, phosphates, extenders, or binders added. Ground beef is often marketed in a range of different fat contents, to match the preferences of different customers.

Ground Beef is usually made from leaner, tougher and less desirable beef created when the sides of beef are carved into steaks and roasts. About 17–18% of US ground beef comes from dairy cows.

In a study in the USA in 2008, eight different brands of fast food hamburgers were evaluated for water content by weight and recognizable tissue types using morphological techniques that are commonly used in the evaluation of tissue's histological condition. The study found that the content of ground beef or hamburgers included:

1) Water content 37.7% to 62.4% (mean, 49%)

2) Meat content 2.1% to 14.8% (median, 12.1%)

3) Skeletal tissue

4) Connective tissue

5) Blood vessels

6) Peripheral nerve tissue

7) Plant material

8) Adipose tissue

9) Bone and Cartilage ("Bone and cartilage, observed in some brands, were not expected; their presence may be related to the use of mechanical separation in the processing of the meat from the animal. Small amounts of bone and cartilage may have been detached during the separation process")

Ground beef may contain beef produced using technology known as advanced meat recovery systems. In addition, meat processing methods employed by companies such as Beef Products Inc. and Cargill Meat Solutions produce product known as lean finely textured beef from fatty beef trimmings. These trimmings are frequently treated with some form of antimicrobial agent to remove salmonella (and other pathogens) and are included in a wide variety of ground beef products in the USA. "USDA Safe and Suitable Ingredients List" This product has been included in US meat products since 2001.

Cuts of Beef Used in Ground Beef

Although any cut of beef may be used, chuck steak is one of the most popular choices (because of its richness of flavor and balance of meat and fat). Round steak is also frequently used. Ground beef is usually subdivided based on the cut and fat percentage:

Chuck: 78–84% lean

Round: 85–89% lean

Sirloin: 90–95% lean

Ground Beef from a Butcher

If you’re getting mince from a butcher, it’s likely to be made from cheaper cuts like chuck steak, from the front shoulders of the cow, and flank, from the cow’s belly. It will also probably include trimmings of meat from steaks, roasting joints and other, more expensive cuts. The butcher will also make sure that there’s a percentage of fat in the mince because it needs a certain amount to give it moisture and flavor as it cooks.

If you prefer to know exactly what sort of meat is going into your mince, choose a piece of meat and ask your butcher to make you a fresh batch right then and there. Most good butchers will be more than happy to do this. Again, chuck steak from the shoulder is a good cut to ask for if you do this; it’s fairly cheap and has a great flavor.


Espinoza, Mauricio. 2005. Choice of Dairy-Cow Bedding Impacts E. coli Survival, Food Safety. Ohio State University Extension

Food Safety and Inspection Service. 2002. Focus on Ground Beef. Fact Sheet, July 2002.

He, Ying; Sebranek, Joseph G. 1997. "Finely Textured Lean Beef as an Ingredient for Processed Meats". ASL R1361. Beef Research Report.

Levenstein, Harvey. 2012. Fear of food : a history of why we worry about what we eat. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226473740.

National Research Council report, An Evaluation of the Food Safety Requirements of the Federal Purchase Ground Beef Program

Neuman, William. 2011. "Food Companies Act to Protect Consumers From E. Coli Illness". New York Times.

Schlosser, Eric. 2012. Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. Mariner Books; Reprint edition. ISBN-10: 9780547750330

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