5 Things You Should Know About Grilling Burgers (To Avoid Getting Sick)

I do a lot of grilling, or barbecuing as it’s known in Ontario (that’s in Canada). One of the best things about living in North Carolina is I don’t often have to be outside in snow or sleet while I roast a pork tenderloin, beer can chicken or burgers.

One of my favorite grilling partners, Matt Shipman and I talked grilling and burger food safety this week and the results were posted at The Abstract.ben-new

For many people, the sound of burgers sizzling on the grill is enough to make their mouths water. Grilling burgers is a great opportunity to spend time with family and friends, whether it’s at a summer party in the backyard or tailgating in the autumn. But grilling burgers can also lead to vomiting, diarrhea and all the other health effects associated with foodborne illness.

To help you and your loved ones avoid barfing this grilling season, we talked to NC State University food safety expert Ben Chapman. And he gave us these five things to remember when it comes to making a delicious (and safe) burger.

1) Color Stinks. Most people think you can tell whether a burger is done by the color of the meat. Those people are wrong.

“A burger can be undercooked, and unsafe, but still be brown in the middle,” Chapman says. “Or a burger can be well cooked, and safe, but still be pink or red. Color is determined by a lot of factors other temperature.”

And you really want to make sure your burger is cooked properly. Ground beef has been linked to foodborne illnesses caused by Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) and Salmonella, while ground turkey and chicken have been linked to Salmonella and Campylobacter.

2) Temperature Rules. The only way to be sure your burger is safely cooked is to observe these basic rules related to time and temperature:

For beef and bison, burgers need to be cooked until their internal temperature reaches 155 degrees Fahrenheit (and stays at that temperature for 15 seconds), or until the internal temperature reaches 160 °F;
For chicken and turkey, burgers need to be cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
And that means you’ll need a thermometer; preferably, a digital, tip-sensitive thermometer.

“Dial-based thermometers are often inaccurate and unreliable,” Chapman says. “Plus, digital thermometers make you a better cook – you’re less likely to overcook your meat if you use one.”

In addition, you’ll want to make sure to check the temperature of your burgers at multiple spots, because temperature at different spots in a single burger can vary by as much as 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

3) Grind-It-Yourself Isn’t Safer. Some people think that buying steak and grinding their own burger is safer than buying ground beef. It’s not.

“The same pathogens we find in ground beef are also found on the outside of whole muscle beef,” Chapman says. “And with ground beef risks, because Shigatoxin-producing E. coli is considered an adulterant, the industry is looking for it much more closely. There isn’t data to show that grinding your own beef is safer, and if you grind something that isn’t intended to be ground you may actually increase your risk.”

4) All Ground Meat Carries Risks. But those risks vary. For example, STEC are much more common in ground beef than in ground poultry, whereas Campylobacter are much more common in ground turkey and chicken. Either pathogen can cause both acute and long-term illnesses – but illnesses caused by STEC are more likely to be fatal.

In other words: cook your burgers to a safe temperature. Especially if you’ll be serving those burgers to children, older adults, or people with a compromised immune system (like patients undergoing chemotherapy).

5) It’s Not Just Cooking. Even if you cook a burger properly, you could still get sick if you didn’t handle the raw meat properly. That’s because of “cross-contamination,” in which pathogens from the uncooked food are transferred to food that’s ready to eat.

“In general, foodborne pathogens have a 10 percent transfer rate,” Chapman says. “So, if there are 10,000 colony-forming units, or cells, in the raw meat you touch with your hand, an average of 1,000 of them would transfer to your hand. Then, if you touched a hamburger bun without washing your hand, you could transfer 100 of those cells onto the bun and – ultimately – into your mouth.

“To avoid cross-contamination, make sure the plate that carried the raw burgers is cleaned and sanitized before any other food touches it (including the cooked burgers),” Chapman says. “You also need to clean and sanitize any utensils that touch the raw meat, such as tongs or flippers, and make sure to wash your hands any time you touch raw meat.”

Now…who wants cheese on theirs?

“We’re going to check the burger with our hands here”

YouTube is awesome. Not just for watching music videos of Norwegians dancing in fox suits or trucks smashing into bridges. It’s just about the best place to see folks modeling risky burger cooking practices.logo_stec

Ben Raymond, MS student, is in the middle of what may end up being an excruciating project of collecting and coding online how-to-cook burger videos.

He sent me the below message today about an eHow video staring school executive chef Brad Newman (below, exactly as shown):

Here’s a great example of the stuff we see in these videos. He’s a chef, he “he helps public schools improve their food programs by training staffs and speaking with students about responsible eating” and is a food safety failure.

He grabs the raw ground and within seconds is literally holding it against the bun he uses for the burger.

The best line “learn your meat, once you learn it youll have it forever” in reference to checking doneness by firmness of the meat.

And at 4:01 you can see him cut into what he describes as the perfect (non-temped) medium rare burger.
USDA NIFA has funded this project (the mining and coding of burger-related YouTube videos) as part of the STEC CAP grant. We will also be creating our own evidence-based videos based on the findings.

National Post says it’s not all that risky to eat undercooked burgers; make mine 160F

I like burgers. When I go out to eat there are a few places I like to go because I know they have the tools to handle risk reduction.

At one of the places I frequent, I ordered a burger and the server asked me how I wanted it cooked and I replied “well done”, the quick and easy response, and a bit of a cop-out on my part. But I’ve read too many stories about illnesses and deaths linked to ground beef to take the extra chance.

The server prodded me a bit, saying that they use really high quality meat and sort of dared me, or at least nudged me, to reconsider something like medium well. Taking this as an opening, I asked her if the kitchen had a thermometer and if they could cook my burger to 160F. I’ve asked this question before at other restaurants (sometimes to the dismay of my dining partners) and have been given a “yeah right” and chuckle – even though the 155F for 15 seconds or 160F guideline is in the FDA food code (my first encounter with this was while playing golf with Doug at a food safety conference).

Our server looked at me a bit weird, said she figured they had a thermometer be cause they have “pretty good kitchen staff” and would ask.  She came back five minutes later and said that the line cook had a thermometer, they use it all the time, and it would be no problem to get a 160F burger.

While the server didn’t really steer me in the right direction, the kitchen got it right. And I keep going back and ordering burgers cooked to 160F.

In Saturday’s National Post Tristan Hopper writes about the taboo nature of undercooked burgers. The terms medium or medium rare are pretty subjective – and color doesn’t mean a whole lot when it comes to safety.

Canadians will pair their martinis with a plate of raw oysters, load up their plates with cheap sushi and tuck into a steak served Chicago rare – but the pink, medium-rare hamburger remains strictly taboo. Once a staple of Canadian cuisine, for about 40 years a hamburger served anything less than well done has remained a delicacy enjoyed only in a handful of brave establishments and on trips south of the border. It is targeted by health inspectors, feared by restaurant owners and scorned by the public, but the long-misunderstood pink burger may not be nearly as dangerous as we all thought.

“I’ve served probably 100,000 burgers and nothing’s happened,” said Greg, a Canadian restaurant owner who isn’t in fact named Greg but wished to stay anonymous, arguing that media attention could attract unwanted scrutiny from the health department. Greg sources his own meat and grinds it in-house, but he still treads a narrow legal line. “A lot of guys do it, but we do it under the radar. If we put our names out there … they’re going to stop it.”
The official “safe” temperature for hamburger meat, as enshrined in municipal codes and provincial acts across Canada, is 71 degrees Celsius, eight degrees higher than the generally accepted threshold for medium rare. “At 71 degrees … you’re basically turning your meat into shoe leather; protein with no moisture left in it,” said Gilbert Noussitou, chair of culinary arts at Victoria, B.C.’s Camosun College. The French-born chef compared it to the difference between a fresh, juicy apricot or a dehydrated apricot slice pulled from the bottom of a bag of trail mix.

According to chefs, the fault lies with a product completely removed from the traditional, fresh-ground beef patty they learned to make in culinary school: The frozen, heavily spiced, pre-packaged hamburger “hockey puck.” Hardly the product of a single ground-up steak, these patties are packed with a wide array of beef leftovers ranging from gristle to sinew to intestines, the incubators for E. coli. A single patty can contain fragments of hundreds of cows, raised on feedlots thousands of kilometres apart. “It has increased the risk of contamination greatly over the years,” said Mr. Noussitou. Even the most die-hard fan of medium-rare burgers avoids eating frozen patties at anything less than well-done. “I would never want to eat a frozen hamburger patty medium rare because I just don’t know the providence of the meat,” said Mr. Belcham.

Unless these folks are searing the outside of the steak (to inactivate the pathogens that might be on the outside) before grinding it up they aren’t doing a whole by grinding up a steak vs. avoiding a commercially processed burger. While that hand-ground steak burger might come from one cow, the primal cut could be contaminated at the packer, butcher or kitchen. I prefer to control the risks with heat. Make mine cooked to 160F.
 

Surveys continue to mislead

 Saying that almost 1-in-5 Americans use a digital thermometer to determine whether a burger is safe to eat is as accurate as surveys that find upwards of 90 per cent of hospital employees wash their hands when they’re supposed to.

In a continuing demonstration of the futility of self-reported surveys, 19 per cent of Americans polled on behalf of the American Meat Institute say they use an instant-read thermometer to determine if beef or poultry burgers are safe to eat (160F and 165F respectively).

When some form of direct observation is used to evaluate medical handwashing rates, the numbers hover around 20 per cent – not 90 per cent. Some form of direct observation of thermometer usage would probably find a similar reduction – about 2 per cent of people actually use them.

I’m the first to praise Americans for advocating thermometer use and the first to taunt the Brits for their piping-hot-school-of-safe cooking, but self-reported surveys are a lousy indicator of what is actually going on in kitchens and cook-outs.

Burgers and beers for Memorial Day

Memorial Day is meant to honor U.S. soldiers who died while in the military service.

Memorial Day, celebrated annually on the last Monday of May, also marks the unofficial start to summer, with public pools opening, barbecues fired up, and hockey playoffs (the last one may just be me, with game 2 of the National Hockey League finals tonight).

There’ll be a lot of beer and a lot of burgers consumed today (in our case, BBQ chicken legs, backs attached, I’ve significantly improved the recipe).

Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports writes all U.S.-based puckheads have obligations during the Stanley Cup Finals, in order to create awareness of championship round and continue The Game’s growing insurgency into popular culture.

1. Buy Nielsen Families Beer, Watch Hockey With Them
2. Insert Hockey References Into Other Sports Conversations.
3. Insert Hockey References Into Every Conversation.
4. HockeyBomb Social Media.
5. Drink Beer. This really has nothing to do with growing the sport. But we find the Finals to be much more enjoyable after a few frosties.

But not at $160 a bottle.

Australian Mik Halse celebrated the arrival of son Oliver earlier this month by treating his friends to two bottles from Scottish brewery BrewDog: Tactical Nuclear Penguin and Sink the Bismarck. As the former and current world-record holders for strongest beer made to date (32 per cent and 41 per cent respectively), they cost $150 and $160 a bottle.

Halse is among a growing band of beer connoisseurs prepared to open their wallets to indulge their palates. While the cost may seem prohibitive, these exotic brews are savoured in much the same way as a fine whisky or brandy, generally sipped slowly in 30-millilitre drams. Most can be kept for a few days after being opened without spoiling and some come with reusable stoppers.

In a world-first concept that removes the gamble of buying an untried costly bottle of beer, the newly opened Biero bar in Little Lonsdale Street (Melbourne) has installed 10 ”beervaults” – clear, cylindrical dispensers created by Footscray design company JonesChijoff.

The vaults allow bottled beer to be transferred into pressure and temperature-controlled tubes that act like kegs to keep beer fresh. They’re the $150,000 brainchild of a group of Melbourne graduates who wanted a way to sample exotic beers available only in bottles. ”This way we can showcase some really rare bottles or give people the chance to buy an expensive beer to be transferred to the vaults where it can be kept fresh for up to four or five days,” says co-founder Iqbal Ameer.

Customers can either buy a beer sample from a dispenser, or use a spare vault to store a full bottle of beer they want to savour over a few nights at the bar.

Hockey’s a game for grafters, which in Brit-speak means hard-workers.

And when cooking that burger, don’t be afraid to stick it in, using a tip-sensitive digital thermometer. The magazine, Good Housekeeping, another icon of America, says that as part of making perfect burgers,

“Burgers don’t have to be well-done to be safe — just not rare. Cooking times will vary, depending on the thickness of the patties and the heat of the grill, so the only way to be sure the burgers are done is to make them all the same size, then break into one to check. Or you can use an instant-read thermometer inserted horizontally into the patty to get a reading in seconds.”

Ignore the first part. A thermometer is the only way to tell. No one wants to make fellow hockeyheads barf. Below is a periodic table of beer styles I got from Coldmud.

They call me…Tater Salad.

Mmm…nothing starts off the semester like a well-charred burger and a heaping pile of tater salad. But like Ron White, this tater salad should not be out in pub-lic.
I was recently a guest at a “welcome back” picnic along with about fifty other students. A few of the dozen or so faculty in attendance grilled up a box full of beef patties and tossed them in a pile for us all to assemble and consume in traditional picnic fashion. I looked them over, picked a luke warm specimen out of the bunch and threw it on a bun with ketchup. But was it done? It certainly looked done, but charred as it may appear, color is no indicator of doneness.
The star of the show, however, was really the five tubs of Kroger brand Mustard Potato Salad lying open on the adjacent table. “Poop Salad" as it was recently dubbed by a ColumbusING blogger from Columbus, Ohio, where E. coli O157:H7 was found in the salads during a routine safety check.  This was after the product was distributed and sold, of course. (That’s just the way these things work.) So Kroger did the socially responsible thing and issued a recall in attempt to remove the possibly tainted salad out of the refrigerators of innocent people and dispose of it properly.
So how does a recall happen? The information goes out: newspapers are picking up the story, TV news crews are spreading the word, satellites in outer space are linking up… but people are sitting around eating recalled potato salad like there’s just a little guy in a booth tapping Morse code and sad little beepings just can’t keep up.
It’s sad that it seems so true. Somebody out there is not keeping up. But who? During the recent  Castleberry chili recall people were still eating the stuff, not knowing there could be a botulism toxin inside, weeks after the recall was announced.
How do we get people to care about the safety of the food they eat? “I was tainted on a production line (possibly),” the tater salad cries. “You threw me…in-to pub-lic.” But the public isn’t paying any attention.

Casey Wilkinson is an undergrad research student at iFSN, and she loves her mom’s tater salad.