How is it possible that only 87 people can churn out 21.7 million lbs of hamburger — that's 9,842 tonnes, 86 million hamburgers, give or take — in a year? Topps Meat Co was forced to close its business on Friday after having to recall all that meat because at least some had been tainted by E. coli O157:H7. Topps is not a slaughterhouse. It is a processor. It bought carcasses from slaughterhouses, ground them up, formed them into hamburger patties, froze them, and shipped them out.

So while the bad E. coli came originally from some poor cow’s gut, a problem for the slaughterhouse, the feedlot operator and the farmer, the fact that Topps mixed up meat from many different animals, possibly from many different sources, and distributed the results far and wide, is the real problem.

I’m kinda sorta sorry for the 87 people who lost their jobs. But not too much. They knew at least at some level what they were involved in.

By the way, this is not a plea to avoid meat or hamburgers. A good hamburger is a thing of joy. But I like mine to come from a single animal, humanely raised and carefully slaughtered. Rare as you like, under those circumstances.

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