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The Benign Hamburger

Co Authors:

Graham F. Peaslee
Chemistry Department
Hope College

Juliette Lantz
Chemistry Department
Drew University

Mary Walczak
Chemistry Department
St. Olaf College


In this dilemma case study, the executives of a popular restaurant chain must decide whether to use irradiated meat, in this case, beef, to protect its customers from the bacteria, E. coli. Students learn about food irradiation and discuss issues related to food safety and the public’s acceptance of new food technologies. As developed, the case could be used in a variety of introductory science courses in chemistry, physics, biology, environmental science, and agricultural science.

  • Introduce an application of nuclear science, addressing some of the myths of nuclear technology, and examining the societal, political, and economic issues surrounding the science of food irradiation.
  • Teach some of the scientific principles of electromagnetic radiation, interaction of radiation and matter, and chemical bonding.
  • Distinguish between atomic and nuclear energy scales.
  • Research a topical and controversial subject.
  • Learn to separate fact from opinion and valid information sources from editorials.
  • Develop critical thinking skills and learn to support arguments and opinions with facts.
  • Apply risk-benefit analysis principles.
Keywords: Food irradiation; electromagnetic radiation; chemical bonding; E. coli; bacteria; beef; meat; risk-benefit analysis
Topical Area: Policy issues, Regulatory issues, Social issues
Educational Level: Undergraduate lower division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Dilemma/Decision
Language: English
Subject Headings: Physics   Physical Chemistry   Food Science / Technology  
Date Posted: 06/21/99
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

Teaching Notes

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I adapted the Benign Hamburger case for a microbiology course I teach and used it as a case study in epidemiology. Students thoroughly enjoyed it, and felt that it covered several aspects of epidemiology that they hadn't previously considered.

Marie Panec
Biology Department
Moorpark College

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