Evidence-based eating

I don’t care what adults choose to eat, smoke, drink or derive pleasure from; I do care when it affects kids, and that’s why many such activities are regulated based on age. For public health, it’s about reducing societal risk. For individuals, it’s balancing risk with choice.

But choice should be based on credible evidence.

Medium-rare hamburger is not the same as a medium-rare steak.

Robert Belcham arm-chair risk modeler and owner of ReFuel Restaurant in Vancouver, one of the few Canadian establishments to offer burgers to order, told the National Post the risk of his medium-rare hamburgers containing personally sourced meat, dried and ground fresh daily, is no greater than a medium-rare steak.

Show me the data. The difference is that meat, no matter how lovingly it is cared for and slaughtered, is prone to poop, somewhere, and when grinding steaks or other cuts, the outside becomes the inside.

Meat is just one offshoot of the Church of Raw, which sees nature as benign and good. I see nature as awesome and a great teacher, but also as an entity that is too busy to worry solely about the welfare of humans. Me say, fire is good.

The term pink burger is used throughout the article to denote a medium-rare burger, yet it has been known for almost 20 years that the color of meat has little to do with its actual temperature (and bacteria-wasting capabilities). Hamburger can appear brown but be woefully undercooked.

Hamburgers, more so than most illness-prone foods, remain subject to an odd double standard. Raw sushi remains largely unregulated. Any Ethiopian restaurant worth its salt offers gored gored (raw beef) and this month, Toronto’s prestigious Royal York Hotel is hosting the Great Toronto Tartare-Off, a showcase of raw minced steak mixed with raw egg. “Somehow, somewhere along the way we’ve been conditioned to think that if you see pink in a burger it means someone’s trying to kill you,” said Donald Kennedy, manager of the Victoria, B.C.-based Victoria Burger Blog.

That’s because people – especially kids – routinely get sick from undercooked hamburger and raw milk. Some die. An Iowa public health type wrote recently that “feeding unpasteurized milk to infants constitutes child endangerment.” Hardly the perfect food.

The line offered by one restaurateur, “I’ve served probably 100,000 burgers and nothing’s happened,” is commonly heard by food safety types from farm-to-fork, and underlies the why people and institutions underestimate risk. Those operating the BP Gulf oil well, the space shuttle Challenger, and Maple Foods meat slicing operations all saw warning signs, but were comforted by the quaint notion that, we did things this way before and nothing happened, so probably something won’t happen today. Food is part of the biological world and is constantly changing.

I’m not here to preach; lots of people do risky things, especially me. What individuals do with their raw meat in the privacy of their own homes is their own business: until it involves children. Or fairytales.

Faith-based food safety still dominates. But, as Lyle Lovett sang 15 years ago, “If a preacher preaches long enough, even he’ll get hungry too.”

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About Douglas Powell

A former professor of food safety and the publisher of barfblog.com, Powell is passionate about food, has five daughters, and is an OK goaltender in pickup hockey. Download Doug’s CV here. Dr. Douglas Powell editor, barfblog.com retired professor, food safety 3/289 Annerley Rd Annerley, Queensland 4103 dpowell29@gmail.com 61478222221 I am based in Brisbane, Australia, 15 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time