A supermarket hamburger patty can potentially come from over a hundred different cows. People with too much time on their hands fret that the practice means the meat can’t be traced back to its source, so an outbreak of foodborne illness can’t be contained.
David Anderson, livestock economist and professor at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, says this is untrue. “If you were buying a tube of beef,” he points out, “it’s got a code number on there that allows you to trace it back to where the beef was processed, and the batch numbers and the day and time that that was ground or produced into your hamburger patties.”
Anderson says it doesn’t make any difference how many cows go into a pound of beef. “All the animals are tested. All the meat is tested,” he notes. “They all go through the same food safety protocols.” He adds that if you go to a wings place, “Not all the wings came from the same chicken, either.”
In all, Anderson says regulations and quality control make this matter a nonissue. “I think we really do have a good food safety inspection system,” he says, “that all these animals, all this beef is tested, and that because ground beef may come from multiple animals really shouldn’t be a concern.”
For those who are concerned as to what parts of the cow go into your burger, Anderson says ground beef is muscle meat. As for organ meats, such as kidneys, livers, and tripe, he says, “Those products have a whole separate market of their own.”