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Following the New York Times‘ investigation of the ground-beef industry, and the failed safety systems designed to protect the public from its worst practices, Y&H contacted a number of prominent burger operators to get their take on the situation.
It was a chance for them to refute any information, argue that the safety of gourmet ground beef is better than commercial ground beef, and generally try to calm a nervous public, if possible.
First up to respond: Mark Bucher, founder and co-owner of BGR: The Burger Joint. He e-mailed answers to four questions.(Responses edited for punctuation.)
Y&H: What was your overall impression of the Times‘ piece and what do you think it will mean for ground beef and burger sales in the future?
Bucher: I thought it was extremely well-researched. This certainly wasn’t the first time we’ve seen this happen in the world. Most of it occurs in fast food restaurants, where they struggle each day to produce a burger that can make them a profit at a .99 cent price point. In my opinion, the entire bulk ground beef issue is one borne by a slow economy and chain restaurants forcing suppliers to “reduce costs,” because they need the financial model to work for a return on their restaurants. I don’t think it will have any impact on the sale of ground beef. Humans love to eat beef; eating a succulent, juicy hamburger is one of the great joys of life.
Y&H: How can you alleviate the fears of diners who worry now that ground beef will be contaminated with E. coli?
Bucher: Truth is, my ground beef is an artisinal product. We don’t use any trimmings in our burgers. In the beef world, we use whole muscles, which are ground for us in very small batches each day. As part of our supply agreement, our supplier (which is not a big conglomerate) has our beef constantly tested. Our supplier also happens to prepare cuts of beef for the U.S. military, where food-borne illness can cripple a strike force, and the highest-end steakhouses on the planet. The utmost care and precision is used in evaluating our raw material. Good, fresh, high-quality ground beef is safe to eat in a raw state. We only use the most expensive cuts of beef. This is completely an issue of trimmings and using questionable areas of beef when suppliers are forced to keep the costs down by their customers. I always tell anyone [who] asks, Go to your butcher and have them grind up a brisket for you. It’s the best form of ground beef.
Y&H: Where do you source your beef and do you grind the meat yourself or have it ground for you?
Bucher: We source only Prime Beef, which is the top 2% of all beef produced in the U.S. Our beef comes from corn-fed Midwestern farms. The beef is transported to Baltimore for processing at a very small 3rd generation family-owned facility (that actually processes Kosher beef), so their standards are much higher than the USDA’s. Our processor only produces burgers for us and for no one else. It’s an artisinal process, from start to finish. We test our beef very frequently for bacteria strains. As recently as last week, we tested our product as part of our normal quality control, and it came back completely 100% perfect.
Y&H: Will you continue to offer rare, medium-rare and other hamburgers that do not reach the USDA-recommended temperature of 160 degrees?
Bucher: Yes, our beef is safe to eat, and our burgers are “gorgeous” at medium-rare. I have no issues or questions about the safety of our ground beef. I am 1000% confident of the source, the muscles used, and the processing techniques.
An extra: A lot of this is caused by the consumer. High quality costs a bit more. In tough economic times, people and restaurant companies often source for cheaper food alternatives. We hear it all the time: [It’s] “not as cheap as___________.” We rest at night knowing that our products are the highest quality available handled in precise care by people [who] are vested in our success and truly care.