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?

Hucksters abound: orangoutangs and gluten instead of real food safety

I learned so much from Dr. Jonny Bower, PhD’s KCRA segment on food safety for grilling.

Like preserving orangoutang habitats. Marinade to stay safe from acrylamide. Protect against gluten. Use a proprietary blend of probiotics. Add lots of spices.Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 2.46.38 PM

Too bad the good doctor didn’t mix in a thermometer. Or talk about cross-contamination.

I couldn’t get the video to embed, check out the full segment here.

Gratuitous food porn shot of the day – grilled salmon and sweet potato fries

Sorenne eating lunch with dad, Oct. 1, 2009.

Marinate farmed salmon fillets (I prefer aquaculture because it is more sustainable) in lime juice, garlic, olive oil and fresh rosemary.

Microwave 2 sweet potatoes, cool, cut into fry-like segments; baste in oil and rosemary.

Turn grill to high. Put fries on upper rack, salmon on direct heat; cook until an internal temperature of 120F.

Is it a barbeque or grill?

I am from California. In California, it’s called a barbeque. I went to college in Alabama and graduate school in Kansas where both places call it a grill. The box labeled it a barbeque grill, so I guess everyone is right.

Regardless of the name, I purchased my very first barbeque this weekend. I put it together correctly and cooked chicken on it. I had never barbequed (or grilled) by myself, but I knew exactly when my chicken was done cooking: my tip sensitive, digital thermometer told me so. My chicken was cooked to a perfect 165°F.

And yes, I also thoroughly washed my hands before cooking and after touching any raw chicken.

When you’re barbequing, stick it in.

How to properly cook hamburgers

The best way to make a hamburger is debatable. In my opinion adding Swiss cheese, pickles, onions, and mustard to a burger nearly perfects it. The one other ingredient? Temperature.
Cooking burgers to 160°F is the only sure way to tell that it is fully cooked. Cooking hamburgers to 160°F kills unwanted microorganisms such as E. coli O157:H7, a deadly ingredient. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 61 deaths a year from E. coli, and thousands more ill. Ground beef was recalled 19 different times in 2007 for E. coli contamination.
E. coli O157:H7 loves hiding in the intestines of animals, such as cows. During slaughter, if workers do not follow safe practices it can get onto the cuts of meat. Steaks can be cooked to varying degrees of doneness because any potential for microorganisms exists only on the surface. However, with ground beef the muscle is mixed up and the organisms are spread throughout the meat.
When cooking, don’t rely on the burger’s appearance to tell if it is done. Many people think a burger that is no longer pink is a done burger. This is not the case as pointed out in many studies (here, here, and here). Sometimes burgers look done well before they hit 160°F.
To measure the temperature of a burger, go out and buy a tip sensitive digital thermometer. Remove the burger from the grill or stove and insert the thermometer into the side of the meat all the way to the center. Wait until the thermometer reads 160°F before serving. Add the toppings of your choice, and enjoy!

Podcast 1
Podcast 2

Hunt, M.C., O. Sørheim, E. Slinde. Color and Heat Denaturation of Myoglobin Forms in Ground Beef. Journal of Food Science Volume 64 Issue 5 Page 847-851, September 1999.

Ryan, Suzanne M., Mark Seyfert, Melvin C. Hunt, Richard A. Mancini. Influence of Cooking Rate, Endpoint Temperature, Post-cook Hold Time, and Myoglobin Redox State on Internal Color Development of Cooked Ground Beef Patties. Journal of Food Science. Volume 71 Issue 3 Page C216-C221, April 2006

Seyfert, M., R.A. Mancini, M.C. Hunt. Internal Premature Browning in Cooked Ground Beef Patties from High-Oxygen Modified-Atmosphere Packaging. Journal of Food Science. Volume 69 Issue 9 Page C721-C725, December 2004

Safe Food Cafe – Tailgating Tips

This video comes from November when the iFSN checked out the food practices performed at a K-State tailgate. Our team didn’t win, but it was great to discuss food safety topics with serious grillers and sometimes, serious drinkers.

Best wishes to the University of Kansas — not Kansas State — which is playing in the Orange Bowl tonight in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, against Virginia Tech. It was a magical season for the Kansas Jayhawks until they met that other Big 12 powerhouse, Missouri.

And for you crazy, KU kids frolicking in the Florida sun, use a digital, tip-sensitive thermometer when sticking it in. Always.