My mother doesn’t buy ground beef—organic, natural or other.

It’s not because she’s a vegetarian or never makes a pot of meatballs. Rather, she has never liked the quality of the ground beef available in supermarkets.

When she wants to make burgers, she buys a few pounds of chuck and pulverizes it herself using my grandmother’s old electric grinder—a 1950s-era relic that was built like a Panzer and continues to work like a dream. It’s similar in design to modern machines like the Northern Electric Meat Grinder or Panasonic Heavy Duty Meat Grinder (right), but I guarantee it weighs substantially more (think carburetor).

Grinding your own meat—and cleaning your machine with a microbiologist’s diligence—is one way to avoid E. coli contamination. The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers these additional tips on meat safety:

  • Wash hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw meat and poultry. Wash cutting boards, dishes and utensils with hot, soapy water. Immediately clean spills.
  • Keep raw meat, fish and poultry away from other food that will not be cooked. Use separate cutting boards for raw meat, poultry and egg products, and cooked foods.
  • Consumers should eat ground beef or ground beef patties only when the meat has  been cooked to a safe internal temperature of 160° F.
  • Color is not a reliable indicator that ground beef or ground beef patties have been cooked to a temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria like E. coli.
  • The only way to be sure ground beef is thoroughly cooked is to use a thermometer to measure internal temperature.
  • Refrigerate raw meat and poultry within two hours after purchase or one hour if temperatures exceed 90°F. Refrigerate cooked meat and poultry within two hours after cooking.

If you have additional questions, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline: 888-MPHOTLINE.

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