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Woman's Tragedy Reveals Serious Flaws in Beef Inspection Process


In a recent article, the New York Times reported on Stephanie Smith, a 22-year-old dance instructor who ended up paralyzed after consuming a hamburger back in 2007 that was contaminated with a serious strain of E. coli. At first, she had bloody diarrhea, which quickly turned to seizures and convulsions. Eventually, her condition worsened to such a degree that doctors were forced to put her in a coma for 9 weeks. When she awoke, she was paralyzed from the damage done to her nervous system. Needless to say, Ms. Smith is no longer a children’s dance instructor.

The article brought to light the serious flaws in beef inspections. In fact, meat companies and grocery stores have been banned from selling ground beef tainted with the virulent strain of E. coli known as 0157:H7 since 1994. Still, ground beef was recalled from nearly 3,000 grocers in 41 states, this summer alone. Moreover, federal health officials cite ground beef as the main culprit for 16 outbreaks of E. coli contamination in the last three years.

Ground beef is often a mixture of several parts of cows, and can even come from different slaughterhouses. Furthermore, meat industry research shows that the low-grade ingredients that go into the making of ground beef are often contaminated with cow feces, which contains E. coli bacteria. Despite this fact, there are no federal requirements for meat grinders to test the ingredients for the E. coli pathogen. Recently, the NYT recently a reply letter to their article from the American Meat Institute, arguing that safety inspections have improved significantly in recent years. However, it is difficult to say exactly how far meat producers are willing to go to protect consumers from E. coli in their hamburgers. Specifically, there is a cost-benefit for meat producers to use various pieces of meat instead of purchasing a whole cut of meat. Indeed, health experts estimate that using the cheaper cuts of meat saves meat producers 25% more than if they were to buy the whole cuts of meat.


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  1. Mike Bryant says:
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    One of my paralegals has two daughters that took classes from Ms Smith, they see her regularly, it is a very sad case. The tape that watches her as she cry’s is so tragic.

  2. Delia Jones says:
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    I w as researching why I sometimes have an allergic reaction to ground beef. It is a severe reaction that has sent me to the hospital. I thought it may be something that is put in the beef when it comes into the USA from another country or maybe some residue from cleaning the machines. It doesn’t always happen. I am so puzzled by this and your article really has me worried about eating ground beef. Do you know if the ground beef was from USA or some other country and brought into the USA to save money. I know McDonalds imports beef and it always gives me an allergic reaction so I avoid eating there.
    Thank you for sharing your information.

  3. Devon Glass says:
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    According to the NY Times article, the meat that caused the sickness was from the USA and not imported. Since there have been multiple outbreaks of E.coli this year already, you may want to stay away from ground beef altogether until you figure out what is causing your illness. The best advice is to talk to your doctor about your illness and work on figuring out what might be causing it. Good luck getting it sorted out.