How I Buy Meat, by Doug Powell

I’ve been writing about food for a decade now and I would say that the second most frequently asked question I get from parents (after How do you roast a chicken?) is:

How do you buy meat for your family?

My personal approach is in constant evolution and usually has something to do with how bad the cholesterol readings are in the house (last spring, not so good) as well as how close-to-home the most recent E.Coli outbreak is. (Say it ain’t so, Trader Joe!)  To address this, I’ve decided to launch a series on DALS called “How I buy meat” and have reporters, public health officials, farmers, environmentalists, and food safety experts weigh in with their personal strategies. I don’t want this to be “How I Should Buy Meat” or “How I Wish I Could Buy Meat.”  I have no grand plans to shut down Tyson. All I want is an expert’s distillation of the massive amount of scary-sounding information ambushing parents daily. I’m not endorsing any of these opinions — yet. I’m merely interested in showcasing a variety of perspectives. I want to know exactly where meat-industry insiders buy their meat and what exactly they buy when they decide Hey! I’m going to roast a chicken for my kids tonight!

My first guest is Doug Powell, associate professor, food safety, Dept. Diagnostic Medicine/Pathobiology, Kansas State University and the father of five girls. His entertainingly combative regularly takes Whole Foods and (no!!!) Michael Pollan to task.

So Doug Powell, how do you buy meat?

“I go to the biggest supermarket I can find — Dillons, Walmart, Krogers. I’ll buy a whole chicken at Dillons for some ridiculously low price, like 99 cents a pound. Because I know they have quality control measures in place to reduce microbial loads before they get in the store. I would never shop at any of those places like Whole Foods. What they are peddling is complete nonsense from a safety point

of view. Whole Foods is so concerned about being natural and whatever else that they don’t pay attention to the basics like cross-contamination. They’re sloppy about that.

“It’s not about lovingly raising an animal which I’m sure lots of farmers do. It’s about testing. In separate USA Today stories last year, both Costco and McDonalds were highlighted for their rigorous safety standards. I’m not talking quality here, I’m talking safety. Given the number of things they serve, those places can’t afford to screw up.

“When I buy ground beef, I treat it like hazardous waste, and make burgers mixed with about 20 per cent ground turkey. A butcher grinding meat in front of me means nothing from a safety perspective. If there’s poop on the outside, it’s now on the inside, which is why i always — always — use a tip-sensitive digital thermometer to make sure any food is properly cooked. There’s just too many people out there getting sick.”

“Food safety” is obviously a phrase that is broadly defined and doesn’t necessarily take into account the longterm effects of a diet rich in animal fats or meat that contains hormones and pesticides. We’ll be hearing those sides of the story next.

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I think you make a very valid point about Whole Foods not caring too much about safety of the food and contamination vs organic. I think the emphasis should be on both..
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