Evan Henke: For the Jucy Lucy and stuffed burgers, the food safety jury is still out

Evan Henke, a student at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health (right, sorta as shown), writes in this guest barfblog.com post:

During a recent trip to a Minneapolis restaurant, I ordered what is perhaps Minneapolis’s most significant contribution to the culinary world: the “Jucy Lucy.”

Legend has it that the Lucy, a hamburger with cheese stuffed inside of the beef patty before cooking (right, not exactly as shown), was invented in Minneapolis, although debate still rages as to which burger joint was the first to offer the Lucy to its customers. As I bit into the Lucy, I noticed that the center of the burger was quite undercooked, and I did not notice the use of a thermometer on the nearby grill. I immediately wondered what effect stuffing the cheese inside of the patty had on the survival of foodborne pathogens during the cooking process.

Maybe the added weight of the cheese would better insulate the side of the burger exposed to the surface grill compared to cooking a normal patty of equal thickness without flipping. Maybe any added moisture in the cheese would help kill any pathogen present in the beef, as long as the moisture was present.

But the true food safety implications of stuffing a ground beef patty with cheese or other ingredients are not well documented (left, not exactly as shown). The amounts of fat and water that escape from the cheese during cooking are not documented, and how those amounts affect the survival of foodborne pathogens present in the patty is unclear. It has been documented that E. coli O157:H7 shows increased resistance to heat in patties with higher fat and lower moisture contents[1]. It is possible that the composition of a stuffed burger, depending on the stuffing and fat and moisture content of the ground beef, could favor the survival of foodborne pathogens relative to a burger with no stuffing.

In a world of foods that taste delicious but can be deleterious to your health, the Jucy Lucy and stuffed burgers sizzle in mystery. How the addition of cheese to the center of the patty affects the survival of foodborne pathogens ought to be documented, not just for the health of my fellow Minneapolitans, but for the health of burger eaters everywhere. And of course, thermometer use is recommended whenever preparing ground beef.

The Make Your Own Jucy Lucy video is included below http://heavytable.com/make-your-own-jucy-lucy/. Warning: Conventional safe cooking technique not displayed in video.

Evan Henke is a student at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health pursuing a Master’s degree in Environmental Health. An avid fan of foodborne disease epidemiology and food safety, he spends most of his free time angering his friends with his knowledge of the food chain and careful scrutiny of food safety practices.

1. Ahmed, Nahed M., Donald E. Conner, and Dale L. Huffman. "Heat-Resistance of Escherichia Coli O157:H7 in Meat and Poultry as Affected by Product Composition." Journal of Food Science 60.3 (1995): 606-10.


Making Your Own Jucy Lucys from The Heavy Table on Vimeo.