U.S. President Obama may want to think again about those burger outings he does.
Obama likes Five Brothers Burgers and Fries, where, “kitchen rules include no timers in the kitchen (because good cooks know when food is done).”
Maybe use a tip-sensitive digital thermometer?
Misti Crane of The Columbus Dispatch writes that those who run kitchens commonly run afoul of food-safety sticklers when it comes time to eat.
Most chefs will likely tell you that a burger cooked to a safe temperature is a burger they would rather not order. And they probably aren’t pushing themselves away from the bar when an icy tray of fresh-shucked oysters arrives.
Food-safety experts shake their heads at such culinary daredevils, but the risk-takers shake their heads right back. Food is pleasure, they say, and rules can stand in the way.
“I like my meat running around the block,” said Columbus restaurateur Tasi Rigsby. “I eat everything. I ate sushi when I was pregnant.”
Mike Suclescy, who co-owns the Thurman Cafe, said most of the burger lovers who visit his German Village restaurant prefer theirs cooked below 160 degrees, the temperature at which E. coli bacteria are killed, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines.
Most people go for medium or medium-rare, he said.
“I don’t think a whole lot of people worry about it here at our place,” he said, adding that a 12-ounce Thurmanator takes a good eight minutes per side to cook to well-done.
Doug Powell, a former food-safety professor and publisher of the website barfblog.com, worries a lot about the safety of children and said he doesn’t take any food-safety risks when it comes to him or his daughters.
Many people who routinely eat raw shellfish or rare beef are quick to point out that they’ve never been harmed in a lifetime of dining.
“You could play the numbers game, and I hear these arguments all the time,” Powell said. “But if it happens to you, the numbers become irrelevant because the only number is one. These illnesses can cause lifelong damage.”
In the case of oysters, for instance, reported illnesses are relatively rare but can be deadly.
Last year in the United States, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 12 outbreaks linked or possibly linked to oysters — 52 people were sickened, and three were hospitalized. The CDC database does not include individual illnesses or deaths linked to oysters, nor does it include those who are sickened and never seek medical care.
The CDC estimates that there are 3,000 food-related deaths per year in the United States and that 128,000 people are hospitalized.
“It’s up to the consumer, but they just have to be knowledgeable and be educated and understand that they are potentially at risk,” said Carol Zubovich, a specialist in the food-protection program at Columbus Public Health.
Restaurants that serve foods considered risky, including undercooked or raw meats, fish and shellfish, have the highest level of scrutiny by food inspectors, she said.
Rigsby said she’s especially selective about the meat, seafood and eggs she eats, and she and her husband, Kent Rigsby, are discriminating about whom they buy from and how they prepare their food.
The beef is all grass-fed, for instance. And the oysters are shipped in fresh from the East Coast and shucked to order. Neither of those things guarantees safety, experts caution, but it gives many people greater peace of mind.
Powell said he doesn’t buy the safe-sourcing argument.
“I know there’s a lot of food porn out there that says if you source it from the right place, it will be safer, but I don’t have any microbiological evidence of that,” he said. “I will not eat raw sprouts. I will not drink unpasteurized juice; and I generally cook my seafood, meat or protein. I wouldn’t touch raw dairy.”
Columbus Public Health’s Zubovich doesn’t go for potentially risky foods, either, and she mostly dines at home, she said. “Since getting into this line of work, I don’t eat out at a lot of restaurants.”