What do rare, medium and well-done mean? Especially with hamburgers?

Amy and I are at the University of Wisconsin in Madison — and I’m struck by how food safety things seem the same.

Amy got invited to speak at a French conference, and we didn’t know if we’d embark on the 10-hour drive this late in the pregnancy, but she said yes, so I tagged along.

Last time I was in Madison was 1997, when I gave a couple of talks at a BSE seminar for the Food Research Institute (FRI). A cursory look back and there were outbreaks involving petting zoos, unpastuerized apple cider, contaminated meat, and listeria. Once I get caught up on news you’ll see the outbreaks are still the same.

So we’ll keep looking for new messages and new media to reduce the number of sick people. As part of that, I had lunch with some FRI friends at The Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co.

Under the sandwiches and burgers section, the menu states,

“We cook our hamburgers and steaks to temperature. Here is a general guideline:

Rare – a cool red center
Medium Rare – a warm red center
Medium – a pink center
Medium Well – a slight hint of pink
Well Done – no pink."

Veteran barfbloggers will know that color – especially with beef – is a lousy indicator of doneness, and an even worse indicator of safety. Over half of all burgers will turn brown before they reach a safe temperature of 160F.

So I told the waitress I wanted a burger, and, when she asked me how I wanted it, I said 160F.

She looked at me.

My guests started to chime in, “You have to understand, he’s an assh…” but I cut them off.

Your menu says, cooked to temperature. That is the temperature I want it.

She started to back away slowly …

OK, well-done, but tell me what the cook says when you ask for 160.

When the waitress returned with the burger, she looked at me, like, you really are an asshole, but did tell me the cook said, if he wants it 160F, he wants it well-done. Why didn’t he just ask for that?

Because temperature is the only way to tell. Stick it in – for safety.