MYNorthwest.com reports improper cooking techniques have resulted in ‘dangerously undercooked’ hamburger patties being served at Burger King restaurants across Washington State, and health officials are concerned the problem could be happening in franchises nationwide.
The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department first reported the problem on July 29 after a routine health inspection resulted in a ‘potentially hazardous’ violation at a Burger King in Puyallup. The inspector expressed concern to her supervisors that the undercooked meat was due to a glitch with equipment, and the incident might not be isolated.
"So we went ahead and proactively inspected all 13 of their outlets in Pierce County," said Dr. Anthony Chen, Director of Health for the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. The inspector was right; roughly half of Pierce County locations were serving undercooked meat.
"We spoke to the Department of Health and turned it over to them," Chen said.
After discovering similar violations across at least 10 counties statewide, the State Health Department sent Burger King a letter on September 1, with their findings.
Among the potential dangers detailed in the letter was a concern with the "Duke Flamebroiler," the piece of equipment that is meant to give Burger King hamburgers their signature flame broil. Products coming off the broiler were sometimes undercooked as "broken ceramic tiles" inside the units reduced the cook temperatures and allowed insulation to fall onto the food.
There were also several concerns with employee error. For instance, employees "did not know how to take final cook temperatures of burgers." Some workers "did not know that undercooked patties should be discarded," and believed a brief microwave step would "remedy" any issues with undercooking.
What the story doesn’t say is how to properly temp a burger and whether thermometers were even present?
Denise Wilson, Global Communications Manager for Burger King, wrote in an email to KIRO Radio that, "Burger King Corp. has recently been made aware of the findings from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department and is investigating the matter to determine if all proper cooking protocols were followed. Additionally, BKC has been in contact with the local franchisees and they are taking immediate corrective measures to ensure that their restaurants are meeting the company’s stringent food safety standards."
The State will be following up.