October 18, 1995
Web posted at: 6:50 p.m. EDT
From Science Correspondent Miles O'Brien
(CNN) -- A thick, juicy hamburger with all the trimmings: for a lot of people, it's heaven on a bun. But if it's not thoroughly cooked, that appetizing burger may be outfitted with dangerous E. coli bacteria.
"The Food and Drug Administration.
The best known recent outbreak came in early 1993, when undercooked burgers from Jack in the Box restaurants in the northwestern United States led to hundreds of cases of E. coli (Escherichia coli) poisoning, and at least two deaths.
There are tests available for E. coli contamination, but most of them take several days to complete. Now, scientists say they have a better way, a test with 24-hour turnaround. (103K AIFF sound or 103K WAV sound)
The test was developed at the National Center for Food Safety and Technology, which brings together researchers from government, universities and industry.
It starts with a prepared sample of meat juice, which is squirted onto a filter. Then the scientists add E. coli antibodies, a type of protein that seeks out the E. coli bacteria. (570K QuickTime movie)
The antibodies have been treated with a fluorescent dye, and under the microscope and a special light, a bright green spot will reveal the presence of each E. coli cell.
The process is faster than conventional methods because scientists don't have to wait as long for bacteria in the sample to multiply.
Tortorello and her colleagues are working on making the test easier to do, so it can be used in meat packing plants. "Right now we have a local beef processor who has incorporated the test into its testing procedures, and we're very happy about that," she said.
Tortorello hopes to see more plants employ the test in the future. But she said that no matter how good screening procedures get, it is still important for people to cook hamburgers thoroughly at home.
Experts advise you home cooks to turn up the heat, and turn up your nose at rare ground beef.
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