American's carnivorous craze is seen in daily servings of ground beef stuffed in burgers, tacos and even added to chili. The huge population of burger lovers has even been divided into those who like their beef well-cooked to a crisp or just medium-rare. Some health-conscious consumers have also resorted to buying organic ground beef, made from cows that are purely grass-fed.

Beef has long been an everyday food source for Americans and experts want to make sure people are buying and eating safe beef products. Raw beef packages can actually harbor bacteria, causing serious illnesses.

In a report published Aug. 24 by Consumer Reports, researchers went to 103 stores in 26 U.S. cities and bought 300 packages of ground beef. Of these, 181 packages were conventionally produced, or made from cows that were fattened in feedlots and given antibiotics and grain. And 191 packages were sustainably produced, which, contrary to the conventional ground beef products, were labeled USDA-organic, made from animals raised without antibiotics and fed on grass. The researchers tested these ground beef samples to check for any of five types of illness-causing bacteria.

"We found a significant difference between the prevalence levels on conventional beef, which were higher than those that we found on those more sustainable beef," said Urvashi Rangan, executive director for food safety and sustainability at Consumer Reports.

The researchers found that among the beef samples, there were at least two types of bacteria in more than 80 percent of conventional beef. Those types of bacteria included staphylococcus aureus and E. coli.

Consumer Reports therefore encourages people to purchase sustainable or grass-fed beef, even if it costs a couple of dollars more than conventional beef. The reason why it costs more, Consumer Reports says, is economic, because it could actually take a farmer a whole year to get a grass-fed animal prepared to hit store shelves for safe human consumption.

At Texas Tech University, however, Food Safety Professor Mindy Brashears says there really isn't that much difference between conventional and sustainable beef.

"With regard to food safety, we really don't see any differences in those two systems," she said, adding that the USDA and companies themselves test the products to ensure safety.

"The beef industry in the U.S. is safe, whether it is a conventionally raised product, an organic or natural product – the consumer can have confidence that they have taken action to make the products safe for over the last 10 years."

According to the USDA, none of the E. coli Consumer Reports found in the conventional beef is the toxin-producing type that causes bacterial outbreaks.

The average American consumes about 66 pounds of beef a year, 42 percent of which are ground beef. Whether you are purchasing conventional or sustainable beef, experts say the best way to keep safe from bacteria is to make sure it's cooked well, at 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

Photo: Martin Cathrae | Flickr

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