Many of us don't want to think about where beef really comes from. Sure, we know it comes from cattle, but we really don't want to be reminded how they are commercially raised to become tomorrow night's supper.

All that changed in late December, when the U.S.'s first case of mad cow (BSE) disease was discovered in a Washington state Holstein cow. For the first time, many Americans were exposed to the intricacies of the beef processing industry, and realized they can't take food safety for granted.

However, with the media focusing so readily on mad cow, a disease which has not yet infected one person in this country (the one woman in the U.S. who has the human form of the disease is said to have contracted it in the U.K., per CDC doctors), most of the public is not aware of how prevalent food illnesses are. Each year, 76 million people in the U.S. become sick because of foodborne illnesses such as Listeria monocytogenes and E. coli, and another 5,000 die from them, as estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC—Atlanta).

Food processors know that methodical processes must be in place to assure foods are safe, or those numbers would be higher. That's why Good Manufacturing Practices, the ISO 9000 series and other food safety programs are an integral part of food manufacturing. Today's safer food plants have the ability to track ingredients used in their products to their original sources, and expect their suppliers to be able to do the same.

The ability to pinpoint the exact source of a problem proved crucial in last year's salmonella outbreak at a Vernon Hills, Ill., Chili's Grill & Bar (Brinker International—Dallas). The final report indicated one infected employee sickened 141 patrons and 28 employees, with an additional 105 probable cases reported. That specific information has resulted in systematic training programs targeting the operation's weaknesses.

The BSE scare in this country has shown the beef industry that its ability to trace precisely the history of cattle should be better. While it has resisted efforts to do so in the past, it is now forced to consider country-of-origin labeling and the assignment of ID numbers to every head of cattle, a proposition that will cost millions and even billions. However, taking into account that more than 40 nations have banned importing American meat, resulting in a loss of $3.2 billion annually (according to Reuters), the time and investment seem worthwhile.

Doing the right things—using good beef raising practices, making sure that sick animals are quickly identified and quarantined, and being certain the origin of sick animals can be traced rapidly—helps ensure good business and, most importantly, the good health of the people.

Internet Information

For more information on this issue's articles, see the Internet sites provided below.

Banking on Barbecue — National Barbecue Association, with information on March 2004 convention — Site with search capabilities on barbecue topics, including recipes — Section dedicated to BBQ recipes — Tips, abbreviations and recipes organized by region — California Barbecue Association, with extensive FAQ site Surfing the Trends of Weight Control Formulations — Obesity Policy Report — The Truth about Carbs, a Weight Watchers article — Dairy Management Inc. — Atkins Nutritionals Inc.,4780,5345,00. html — A description of the South Beach diet — The Low-Carb Food Fight Ahead, article from Business Week Online — USDA site on obesity information

Flavor and Taste Perceptions of Asian Foods — Features Asian recipes, as well as information on culture, religious food practices and cooking methods, by country — Asian food information, and links to pertinent sites
Ingredients in Use: Margarines and Oils — FDA info. on July 2003 trans fatty acids ruling, with links to related sites — Harvard info. on trans fats — American Heart Assn. info on trans fatty acids