By: Elizabeth Rahavi, RD Date: 9/13/10
A few weeks ago, I was out enjoying a nice Sunday dinner with my husband at a new hip restaurant in Bethesda, Maryland. My husband was craving branzino, “European seabass,” and after searching high and low we could not find it. He finally settled on ordering a hamburger. (In case you’re interested I ordered skate.) After my husband ordered his hamburger, the waitress asked him, “How do you want that cooked.”
While I’ve heard this question before, it always takes me by surprise. As a trained dietitian, I’ve learned that hamburgers made from ground beef should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 160°F and should be held at that temperature for at least three-five minutes. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, when meat is ground more of the meat can be exposed to harmful bacteria. This bacteria can multiply rapidly in the "Danger Zone" — temperatures between 40 and 140°F. To keep bacterial levels low, ground beef should be stored at 40°F or less and used within two days, or frozen and stored in the freezer for later use. The bottom line is that to destroy any harmful bacteria, the food needs to be cooked to a high temperature. In a restaurant this means your best bet is to order it medium-well or well done. At home, you want to try to use a food thermometer and check the temperature. The major concern in ground beef that you're trying to kill off is the microorganism E. coli O157:H7.
E. coli O157:H7 is a strain of E. coli that produces large quantities of a potent toxin that forms in the intestine and causes severe damage to the lining of the digestive tract. Symptoms of infection can include, severe abdominal cramping and diarrhea which can be either watery or bloody, occasionally vomiting occurs, and a fever is either low-grade or absent. Once E. coli 0157:H7 is in food, it can multiply very slowly at temperatures as low as 44 °F. While the actual infectious dose is unknown, most scientists believe it takes only a small number of this strain of E. coli to cause serious illness and even death, especially in children. Illnesses caused by E. coli O157:H7 have been linked with the consumption of undercooked ground beef, raw milk, apple cider, dry cured sausage, fresh spinach, and undercooked roast beef.
What Can You Do to Be Food Safe?
Being a good cook is only part of the story when it comes to food preparation. Everyone needs to make safe food preparation a top priority. Knowing how to refrigerate, cook, clean and store foods is the best recipe for keeping you and those who eat your food healthy. Consumers expect the food that they buy in supermarkets or at a restaurant to be as free as possible from bacteria. However, none of the control measures currently in use can completely remove one hundred percent of the microorganisms present in food. That's why good sanitation and careful food handling and preparation by everyone in the food system will always be necessary to help reduce the risk ok foodborne illness.
How will you prepare your next hamburger….