July 21, 2018

Pink Burgers Still on the Menu

Despite repeated warnings about consuming undercooked ground beef, a survey by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), published by the Journal of Food Protection found that millions of Americans still like medium or medium-rare burgers.

skylers hamburgerBased on the recent outbreaks of Salmonella food poisoning from ground beef, this survey is disheartening. Ground beef is often contaminated with pathogens. In fact, it’s perfectly legal to sell raw meat that contains any bacteria other than E. coli 0157:H7. The USDA assumes that the consumer is cooking the meat well-done, which does destroy bacteria.

Contamination of the beef can happen at any stage of processing. The cow itself may be contaminated. Feces can come into contact with the meat at the slaughterhouse. Faulty handling procedures may cause contamination.

Bacteria are present on the surface of any beef cut. When the meat is ground, that bacteria gets mixed into every centimeter of ground beef. And one batch of bacteria-laden meat can contaminate thousands of pounds of beef when the meat is mixed.

The study queried residents of 10 FoodNet sites by telephone. The questioners asked about food consumed in the previous week. Of the 8,543 respondents, more than 75% ate some type of ground beef at home. Of those, 18% ate pink ground beef.

If these numbers are extrapolated to Americans in general, that means 40,000,000 Americans eat pink ground beef at home. (One caveat to the study: pink doesn’t necessarily mean undercooked. Ground beef can remain pink when cooked to the recommended temperature of 165 degrees F, and can turn brown before it reaches that safe temperature. That’s why only a food thermometer can tell you if ground meat is cooked well done so it is safe to eat.)

A profile of the people most likely to eat pink ground beef is interesting. Most are men. People with graduate degrees and those with moderate incomes were more likely to eat pink ground beef.

If you enjoy eating burgers that are less than well-done because you like moist meat, there are some tricks you can use to make well-done burgers tender and moist.

  • Mix some soft bread crumbs with milk and add that to the meat. This panade holds moisture in the meat as it cooks.
  • Handle the meat as little as possible when forming burgers.
  • Use a meat thermometer and remove the burgers from the heat the second they reach 160 degrees F. Cover the burgers and let them stand 5 minutes so the juices redistribute and the temp rises to 165 degrees F.
  • You can purchase steak and grind the meat yourself, although there is no guarantee the ground meat is safe to eat undercooked.
  • Never serve undercooked ground meat (including the above method) to anyone in a high-risk group: children, pregnant women, those with a chronic illness, and the elderly.

Comments

  1. Concerned Citizen says:

    Eating ground beef that is not fully cooked is plain stupid. When I order a burger I expect it will be fully cooked. If not, I send it back and find another place to eat.

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