Ellen Thomas: Thermometers only way to know a burger is safe

Ellen Thomas, a PhD student in food science at North Carolina State University who enjoys running, baking, and playing the violin, writes:

I’ve ordered a crazy number of burgers over the past year. This isn’t because I constantly crave red meat, I’m just interested in what restaurant servers say about eating undercooked burgers.

An E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, which sickened 11 people in 4 different states, has been linked to undercooked burgers at restaurants. Over 1.8 million pounds of ground beef have been recalled.

hamburger.thermometerThe FDA Food Code, adopted in some form by most states, says that it is the duty of the restaurant to disclose risk information around consuming undercooked hamburgers and remind people when they order. Sometimes this is included on the menu, sometimes the servers engage patrons. However, there is no data about whether this actually occurs.

To capture this data, I’ve trained a legion of secret shoppers to order burgers cooked medium rare, and record the risk information provided on menus and by servers.

It’s been an enlightening process.

A lot of servers talk about color, some talk about temperature, others talk about the firmness of the burger.

There have been numerous situations where a server simply says, “the cook just knows what they’re doing.” A lot of servers assure the secret shoppers that eating a medium rare burger is perfectly safe.

And some responses have been shocking like the server who volunteered, “You’ll be fine eating it medium rare- my sister ate a burger that was raw in the middle when she was pregnant and she was just fine.”

rare.hamburgerUnfortunately, misinformation about cooking burgers is widespread. When interviewed by 22News following the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, Joe Igner, owner of Local Burger in Northampton, Massachusetts, said that he “never had a problem with E. coli” because “it’s recommended to cook ground beef at least 4 minutes and up to 7 minutes on each side.” Nowhere did Igner mention thermometer use. He also stated, “We don’t get it from a processing plant and that’s a big difference because when they process, they process beef and turkey and if they don’t change the blades, that’s when somebody’s going to get sick.”

This is simply not true. Contamination can occur at any point when processing, handling, and preparing raw ground beef, including in a restaurant kitchen, even if it is ground in house.

Sydney Lupkin of ABC writes, So how do you know if your hamburger’s safe? It’s not as simple as you think.

“With ground beef, color is not a reliable indicator of doneness,” said Marianne Graveley, a specialist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s meat and poultry hotline.

Meat that’s still pink may be well-done, Graveley said, and meat that’s brown may need more heat.

“We used to have different campaign: It’s done when it’s brown in middle,” she said. “Now we say to use a meat thermometer. It’s the only way to know that it’s safe.”

USDA recommends that hamburgers be cooked to at least 160 degrees internally. But it’s no secret that few of us take the temperature of our patties, and many of us prefer them rare.

“We would never recommend that,” Graveley said. “The risk of food poisoning is too great. People have gotten very sick from very small amount of food. We just don’t think it’s worth the risk.”

hamburger-safe and unsafe-thumb-450x138-175The server response that sticks with me the most is, “I’m just a server- I don’t know what the cooks do.” This may seem like a reasonable statement; servers are usually tending to numerous tables in a very high-paced environment and only pass through the kitchen to pick up dishes.

When digging into the current outbreak, it’s curious to think whether illnesses have occurred had risks been effectively communicated to consumers. What I’m trying to figure out is how much do servers play a role in advising consumers of their food choices?

Ordering all of these burgers shows me that there are gaps between what happens in a kitchen and what a server tells restaurant patrons. As the server is typically the liaison between the kitchen and the consumer, these gaps mark crucial points where risk information could occur and it is not happening.

‘Not in our culture to eat horse meat’; horse, pig DNA found in Irish supermarket burgers

Traces of horse meat have been found in burgers on sale in some of the country’s busiest supermarkets, food safety chiefs have revealed.

Scientific tests on beef products sold in Tesco, Dunnes StoresLidlAldi and Iceland uncovered low levels of the animal’s DNA.

Professor Alan Reilly, chief executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), said there was no health risk but also no reasonable horse.meat.09explanation for horse meat to be found.

“The products we have identified as containing horse DNA and/or pig DNA do not pose any food safety risk and consumers should not be worried,” he said.

According to the research by the FSAI, one sample of burger goods, Tesco Everyday Value Beef Burgers, showed about 29% horse meat relative to beef content.

“Whilst there is a plausible explanation for the presence of pig DNA in these products due to the fact that meat from different animals is processed in the same meat plants, there is no clear explanation at this time for the presence of horse DNA in products emanating from meat plants that do not use horse meat in their production process,” Prof Reilly said.

“In Ireland, it is not in our culture to eat horse meat and therefore, we do not expect to find it in a burger.”

Tennessee woman arrested for calling 911 to complain about ‘nasty’ hamburger from Hardee’s

The latest entry to our food-related 911 Hall of Shame is Donna Marie Nichols of Rockwood, Tennessee (right, exactly as shown) who called 911 twice to complain about a substandard fast food hamburger.
In one call, obtained by the website The Smoking Gun, Ms Nichols, 50, tells the 911 dispatcher that the burger is "no good" and "nasty."

When deputies arrived at her home, she said that she had called the restaurant before she called 911 and the manager had offered her a refund for her food, according to WCRB.

She was arrested on abuse of 911 charges and booked into the Roane County Jail. She was released Monday night.

Previously, customers have been popped for calling 911 to register dismay about Burger King lemonade, McDonald’s McNuggets, and pizza.

Epidemiology can work; Salmonella Hadar found in fingered Jennie-O turkey burgers

Oh frozen food, you are so helpful during investigations of foodborne illness.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported last night, in its best CDC-speak,

“Collaborative investigative efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory agencies have linked this outbreak to eating turkey burgers. Investigators were not able to determine consumption of turkey burgers for all case-patients. However, FSIS determined that at least three of the case-patients in Colorado, Ohio, and Wisconsin specifically reported eating Jennie-O Turkey burgers the week before their illness began. Samples of Jennie-O ground turkey burgers were collected by public health agencies from the homes of case-patients in Colorado and Wisconsin who tested positive for the outbreak strain of Salmonella Hadar. Both turkey burger samples were positive for the outbreak strain. States have reported antibiotic resistance of the outbreak strain to several clinically useful drugs including ampicillin, amoxicillin/clavulanate, cephalothin, and tetracycline.

"As of April 1, 2011, 12 persons infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Hadar have been reported from 10 states: Arizona (1 case), California (1 case), Colorado (1 case), Georgia (1 case), Illinois (1 case), Missouri (1 case), Mississippi (1 case), Ohio (1 case), Washington (1 case), and Wisconsin (3 cases). Isolation dates range from December 27, 2010 to March 24, 2011. Ill persons range in age from 1 year to 86 years old, with a median age of 29 years old. Sixty-three percent are female. Among the 12 ill persons with available information, three have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported."

12 sick with salmonella linked to turkey burgers

They may be all natural and lean, but raw, frozen turkey burgers can contain salmonella. With raw, frozen turkey thingies and burgers, and raw frozen beef patties, people have been observed to treat them like a sterile mini-Frisbee because they are frozen, leading to cross-contamination. And something like 1 per cent of Americans say they use a tip-sensitive thermometer to ensure burgers or thingies have reached a safe temperature; color is a lousy indicator of safety. That’s why it’s important to reduce loads of dangerous microorganisms in foods before they reach the food service or home kitchen.

At least 12 people throughout the U.S. are sick with Salmonella serotype Hadar, with illnesses occurring between December 2010 and March 2011. Health types determined that three of the patients in Colorado, Ohio, and Wisconsin specifically reported eating a Jennie-O ground turkey burger prior to illness onset and hospitalization; the last of these illnesses was reported on March 14, 2011.

Last night, Jennie-O Turkey Store, a Willmar, Minn. establishment, recalled approximately 54,960 pounds of frozen, raw turkey burger products that may be contaminated with salmonella. As the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) continues its investigation of illnesses related to this recall, additional raw turkey products may be recalled.

The products subject to recall include:
• 4-pound boxes of Jennie-O Turkey Store® "All Natural Turkey Burgers with seasonings Lean White Meat". Each box contains 12 1/3-pound individually wrapped burgers.

A use by date of "DEC 23 2011" and an identifying lot code of "32710" through "32780" are inkjetted on the side panel of each box, just above the opening tear strip. Establishment number "P-7760" is located within the USDA mark of inspection on the front of each box. The products were packaged on Nov. 23, 2010 and were distributed to retail establishments nationwide.

When available, the retail distribution list(s) will be posted on FSIS’ website at www.fsis.usda.gov/FSIS_Recalls/ Open_Federal_Cases/index.asp.
 

Sol Erdozain: Stick it in, Mr. Food

The Topeka (Kansas) news on CBS at 5am always seems to have some sort of problem with sound, weather maps, and performing lively. It has become my little morning ritual to have it on in the background while I work and see what else they can get wrong.

I can’t help myself. I have to watch, no matter how bad it gets.

With summer starting today, I can add bad food safety information to the list.

CBS had Mr. Food reciting a chili burger recipe that apparently included barfing.

He instructed viewers to cook the patty until “juices run clear” and then slap it on the bun, which is not the correct way to check if it’s safe to eat.

It exemplified why I was skeptical of experts cited in a Washington Post article, in which they agreed it was possible to learn how to cook from watching TV, yet didn’t even mention food safety. Putting together a recipe is not all there is to cooking, and with advice like that of Mr. Food’s you are learning how to make people sick.

Make my turkey burger rare – just kidding

A long-time barfblog.com reader — first-time commenter — writes in with the following restaurant experience from Olathe, Kansas:

I literally just got home from one of my favorite casual dining restaurants here in Olathe. I ordered my favorite sandwich — the Avocado Turkey Burger. The server took my order first as my girlfriend was still deciding what to order. She ordered a different turkey burger (copy cat). As the server wrote her order down I jokingly called my girlfriend a "Copy Cat" out loud at the table for ordering the same (almost the same) sandwich. So to be different, I told the server "Hey, can I get my turkey burger medium rare"….she said "sure no problem sir", took her pad back out, wrote it down and walked off. I called her back to the table to explain I was just joking and that turkey had to be cooked "all the way."

She just stared at me, then the light went off in her head…."oh, ya, I knew that."

I was afraid to eat…but I did and it was still tasty as usual.

On the drive home all I could think about was this could totally have been a story I read on barfblog.com with some picture of bloody rare turkey or something — or not.

Ask your server to stick it in.