E. coli is a naturally occurring bacterium that has some particularly virulent strains (E. Coli 0157:H7) that are dangerous to human health. We have all heard about meat recalls and outbreaks that actually kill people. The most recent press that everybody has seen is about tainted spinach. Some people are theorizing that this spinach was infected with E. coli by exposure to animal manure or human manure (feces from farm workers). E. coli is a very dangerous threat to human health.

E. coli outbreaks are often linked to meats or meat products that are improperly cooked. Meat is contaminated by E. coli being released from the gut of the animal in the slaughter process or by contamination of meat by manure from harvested animals that contains the E. coli. What is the biology of this syndrome? E. coli is a naturally occurring bacterium in the gut of a bovine. Although E. coli is naturally occurring in the gut of the bovine it needs an acidic environment to proliferate. The normal PH of a healthy rumen (digestive tract of the bovine) is 6.2 to 6.5. Most cattle are finished in this country on feedlots on a ration that includes substantial amounts of grain. This ration causes an acid environment in the rumen called acidosis—it is one of the big problems of the feedlot nutritionist to combat this acidosis. Arm and Hammer baking soda is a key ration ingredient used to buffer the rumen in an attempt to counteract the negative PH. In laymen’s terms the high grain ration causes indigestion and also provides an environment in which E. coli proliferates. Is there any way to reduce this threat to human health and safety?

Cornell University suggests there are ways to curtail this problem: “A simple change in cattle diets in the days before slaughter may reduce the risk of Escherichia coli (E. coli) infections in humans, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Cornell University microbiologists have discovered.” In a press release dated Sept. 10,1998, Cornell discusses research that shows that E. coli in the bovine digestive tract could be substantially reduced by removing the grain ration from finishing cattle and feeding them hay for five days before slaughter. Follow this link for the whole story http://www.news.cornell.edu/releases/Sept98/acid.relief.hrs.html.This allows the rumen to revert to its normal PH which in turn makes a very unattractive environment for the E. coli bacterium.

Further research on this subject shows that cattle fed a grass only diet for their entire growing and finishing period have a negligible amount of E. coli in their gut whereas grain finished cattle have substantial amounts. Visit www.eatwild.com for charts and a synopsis of the article or go directly to the report by Russell, J.B., F. Diez-Gonzalez, and G.N. Jarvis, “Potential Effect of Cattle Diets on the Transmission of Pathogenic Escherichia Coli to Humans”, Microbes Infect 2, no.1 (2000): 45-53.

Once again we see that the industrialization of a natural process such as the rumination of the bovine has serious negative consequences for the operator, the human.
!00% grass-fed and finished beef can’t be said to have no E. coli—remember E. coli is naturally occurring—but the health risk is miniscule.