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Mad Cow Disease

What's Safe to Feed Your Kids?


Updated December 28, 2003

Updated December 28, 2003
Knowing what to feed your kids has always been a struggle for parents, but the many reports of food related illnesses this year has left even more parents wondering what's left that is safe to feed their children.

After all, there have been a lot of reports in the news this year that you can get:

  • Hepatitis A if you eat raw or undercooked green onions, which were linked to outbreaks in Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia last September.
  • food allergies if you eat peanut butter, which has convinced many parents to not give peanut butter until their children are 2-3 years old, even if they are not at high risk for food allergies.
  • fat if you eat too much fast food, fruit juice, soda and other high fat or high calorie foods.
  • exposed to mercury if you eat certain types of fish, which you should not eat at all if you are pregnant, might become pregnant, breastfeeding, or a small child, including shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish and that you should only eat up to 12 ounces (2 to 3 meals) of other purchased fish and shellfish a week, although the limit would be lower for young children.
And now, the reports of Mad Cow Disease in the United States is going to make some parents wonder if they should limit how much meat their kids eat. But before you start changing your child's diet, keep in mind that the CDC states that 'it is extremely unlikely that BSE {mad cow disease} would be a foodborne hazard in this country' and most food safety experts think that our food supply is safe.

Can your child get Mad Cow Disease?

No. Mad Cow Disease or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) is a disease that affects cattle. Humans can get a similar disease called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), or vCJD, from eating cattle products, including the brain, spinal cord, other neural tissue, and intestines, that are contaminated with the agent (prions) that causes BSE. These prions are not thought to be in the muscles of cattle that makes up the cuts of meat that we routinely eat and they do not occur in the cow's milk, so your kids are not at big risk of getting this rare disease.

Also keep in mind that to date, even with the large outbreaks of Mad Cow Disease in cattle in the UK, there have been only 153 cases of vCJD worldwide.

In addition to not feeding your kids cow brains, if you are still worried about Mad Cow Disease, you might:

  • avoid ground beef that might have contaminated neural tissue in it. Instead, have a labeled cut of meat ground up for you.
  • avoid cheaper processed meats, such as hot dogs and lunch meats, unless you know what raw cow parts go into it.
Still, since the risk is so low, even these steps are probably unnecessary.

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