Don’t care, use a thermometer: Burger secret sweeping America

Common belief has been, according to Tristan Lutze, a Sydney-based food writer, that a good burger patty should be fat, juicy and pink inside. To cook it perfectly, you need a nicely oiled grill and a careful hand, taking care to never press on the burger and squeeze out those delicious juices.

ultrasmash.burgerColor is a lousy indicator and a tip-sensitive digital thermometer is required.

But there’s something of a burger rebellion happening on America’s east coast, and it’s beginning to spread.

The secret is a technique called “ultra-smashing”, a phrase coined by The Food Lab for a process that’s being used by burger superstars Harlem Shake in NYC, and the obsession-worthy Shake Shack.

With just a couple of pieces of equipment and a small piece of meat, it creates a flavour-packed burger in under a minute. Yes, in less than 60 seconds.

All you need is:

— A stainless steel pan, or BBQ hotplate. Your favourite non-stick pan WON’T work here.

— Any tool that will help you press down on the meat as hard as possible once it’s on the pan. A (new, washed) $10 stainless steel plastering trowel from a hardware store is perfect, and capable of much more pressure than a kitchen spatula.

— A scraper to dislodge the meat from the pan. A steel pastry scraper will work, but a joint knife or scraper from the hardware store is even better.

Heat the unoiled pan to nearly smoking and roll your mince (the fattier the better) into a 5cm diameter ball. Place the meat into the centre of the pan and immediately press down on the patty with the trowel or spatula, applying extra pressure with the scraper if needed.

Keep pushing as hard as you can until the meat is only a few millimetres thick.

Whatever the technique, a tip-sensitive digital thermometer, inserted sideways in this case, is still required.

Yes: Do you really want to know what’s in your burger?

Is there meat in your veggie burger? It’s possible, according to Clear Labs, a company that genetically tests food products.

meatwad.raw.hamburgerThe company, which gave consumers a peek into the hot dog industry last October, revealed on Tuesday just what consumers are getting when they purchase burger products.

Clear Labs examined 258 samples from 79 brands and 22 different retailers. The samples included ground meat, frozen patties, veggie burgers and fast food burgers.

The company determined that 6.6 percent of the products contained an ingredient that was not listed on the label. In fact, there was beef DNA found in five products that were not supposed to contain beef, including two vegetarian burger products.

In addition, there were 14 products — all vegetarian — that were missing ingredients that were listed on the label. This includes a black bean burger that didn’t have any black beans in it. Altogether, 23.6 percent of vegetarian products were determined to have some discrepancy between the final product and the ingredients listed on the label.

That’s not where the trouble ends for veggie products, however. One vegetarian burger was determined to contain human DNA. The company notes that it was unable to uncover the source of the DNA, but it was likely from hair or skin cells.

Clear Labs also found issues with the meat samples that it tested. A fast food burger and a ground meat sample both contained rat DNA, in addition to one vegetarian burger.

In addition, seven of the 258 samples of meat tested contained a pathogen that had the potential to cause a foodborne illness. The report notes that the pathogens found in the cooked burgers were less likely to be alive and pose a smaller health risk.

“Although we did find several surprising quality issues, signaling that there are gaps in food safety and quality protocols that should be addressed, our findings suggest that the beef industry as a whole has benefited from stringent regulation and aggressive testing requirements,” Clear Labs said in the report.

cartmaburgerprocessjpg“I don’t think this report is helpful for a consumer to know if the food that they are choosing is safe or not,” Mandy Carr, the senior executive director of science and product solutions for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, told CNBC.

She raised concerns as to when the DNA discovered on the products was added, noting that the samples could have been contaminated in the lab it was tested in. Carr also noted that the study did not delve into whether the pathogens found in the meat were alive or benign, something that could have been tested.

‘We grind our patties in store every day’ so they’re safe, and other hamburger myths

Not sure who is worse here: the celebrity chef or the government regulators.

But they’re both wrong on the topic of shiga-toxin producing E. coli in hamburgers.

meatwad.raw.hamburgerThe stories pitch it as a “bun fight between health bureaucrats and burger bars over what makes a safe hamburger.”

And both sides are using erroneous information.

I don’t really care what people eat, other than what they feed to their kids, and that accurate information is provided.

A NSW Food Authority spokeswoman said council officers had approached the watchdog in recent months “concerned about the increase in businesses serving rare/undercooked burgers” and potential health risks.

The authority has sent revised “Hamburger Food Safety” guidelines to Environment Health Officers, attached to the state’s 152 councils.

“Mince meat should be cooked right through to the centre,” the instructions say, citing a temperature of 71C.

“No pink should be visible and juices should run clear.”

Color is a lousy indicator, as is juices running clear. The only way to tell if a burger is safe is to use a tip-sensitive digital thermometer.

Regulators, with all their talk of science-based activities, should know better.

The spokeswoman said if businesses wanted to cook using an alternative temperature, “they must be able to demonstrate that their cooking process is safe”. Burger bars that don’t meet the new guidelines face penalties up to $1540 per offence “for the preparation or sale of unsafe food”.

Sydney chef Neil Perry, who plans to open four Burger Project stores this year, cooks his patties to medium — about 60C. But he said the big difference is staff at his outlets grind meat fresh every day, making it safe.

“We can do medium-rare, which is about 55C, but we rarely get asked for that,” he said. “About 10 per cent of orders are for ‘well done’.”

Perry said the food guidelines serve as a “worst-case scenario” safety net.

“Those guidelines from the health department are important because a lot of burger places have their patties supplied by butchers and have already been minced,” he said.

Perry said bacteria starts growing as soon as meat is minced so chefs need to mince and cook on the same day and keep meat refrigerated at the right temperature:

“We grind our patties in store every day.”

So what?

Shiga-toxin producing E. coli are generally found on the surface of meat cuts (unless that meat has been needle tenderized). The process of mincing moves the outside to the inside, so rare is risky.

Those dangerous E. coli are also especially infectious, with as few as 10 cells thought to cause illness.

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Trump, castes, and microbial food safety

Roberto A. Ferdman and Christopher Ingraham, reporters for the Washington Post, write there are few things as regrettable as a steak well done.

idiocracy_thumbCooking meat to the point of leathery toughness dulls the flavor, among many other things. “Forgive my snobbishness, but well-done meat is dry and flavorless,” Mark Bittman wrote in 2007, imploring people to serve hamburgers “rare, or at most medium rare.”

What Bittman actually said was, “if you grind your own beef, you can make a mixture and taste it raw,” adding that, “To reassure the queasy, there’s little difference, safety-wise, between raw beef and rare beef: salmonella is killed at 160 degrees, and rare beef is cooked to 125 degrees.”

This is food safety idiocracy: Using Bittman to prop up an argument is silly.

The authors continue by commenting on the gastro habits of Donald Trump, who apparently likes his steak well-done.

This, more than anything else Trump has ssaid or done, brings him into ridicule.

A 2014 survey by 538 found that fully one-quarter of Americans said they liked their steak done “well” or “medium-well.”  Is this Trump’s base? Hard to tell, since there weren’t enough steak-eaters in the 538 survey to break out demographic groups. But we can turn instead to a 2012 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair survey that asked 1,000 Americans how they liked their burgers done.

The results shock the conscience. Thirty-six percent of respondents said they liked their burgers well done, making that the most popular response. Another 29 percent liked medium burgers, 19 percent prefer medium-rare, and only 4 percent cook their burgers rare.

Digging into the demographics, a few interesting patterns stand out. First, preference for overcooked meat is strongly correlated with age. Forty-six percent of senior citizens prefer their burgers well done, compared to only 27 percent of those aged 18 to 29.

The less-educated are also more likely to prefer well done burgers – 47 percent of those with a high school education or less like their burgers well done, compared to only 25 percent of those with a college or advanced degree.

barfblog.Stick It InThere’s a similar relationship with income, with people in higher-income households less likely to overcook their burgers than people in low-income households.

These are the same demographics as anti-vaxxers, raw-milk connoisseurs and anti-GMO types.

And surveys still suck.

Hamburger should be cooked to 165F, steak 140F, as verified with a tip-sensitive digital thermometer.

No amount of flowery put-downs or caste-style insults will change the safety data.

Thermometers an afterthought: UK wants views on rare burgers advice

The UK Food Standards Agency has made a begrudgingly acknowledgement to thermometers, but still insists on color to tell if burgers are done.

barfblog.Stick It InThe growing popularity of burgers served pink has led the FSA to develop the advice on rare burgers. It is aimed at helping businesses meet consumer demand for rare burgers while keeping customers protected. Burgers that aren’t thoroughly cooked can contain bacteria that cause food poisoning if the right controls aren’t in place.

In September 2015, the FSA Board agreed a number of controls that food businesses serving burgers pink will need to have in place to demonstrate that they are maintaining customer safety. The new advice sets the options out and they include:

  • sourcing the meat only from establishments which have specific controls in place to minimise the risk of contamination of meat intended to be eaten raw or lightly cooked;
  • ensuring that the supplier carries out appropriate testing of raw meat to check that their procedures for minimising contamination are working;
  • sStrict temperature control to prevent growth of any bugs and appropriate preparation and cooking procedures;
  • notifying their local authority that burgers that aren’t thoroughly cooked are being served by the business; and,
  • providing advice to consumers, for example on menus, regarding the additional risk.

chipotle.BSThe draft advice is for caterers and local authorities only and the FSA’s long-standing advice to consumers is unchanged: burgers prepared at home should be cooked thoroughly until they are steaming hot throughout, the juices run clear and there is no pink meat left inside. If using a temperature probe or cooking thermometer, make sure the middle of the burgers reaches a temperature of 70⁰C for 2 minutes.

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Salmonella in mince triggers Swedish supermarket recall

Swedish supermarket ICA Group which has almost 2,000 stores across Sweden announced the recall of meat following salmonella threats.

ICA Group.beef.minceIf you’ve bought minced beef or pork from ICA range since February 28th you should not eat the produce. The supermarket chain has announced that 13 different products are affected by the scare. The batches of meat which are at risk of carrying salmonella are understood to have expiration dates of between March 6th and March 10th.

These include mince from ICA’s Basic and Import ranges which is sold in a variety of sizes and comes from Ireland, Sweden and Denmark. The company said in a statement that it had taken the meat off shelves across the country after discovering salmonella during a routine check.

Rare burger porn – more from Australia

Medium-rare means nothing. It’s temperature that counts for safety.

hillburgerBut why not listen to actor Les Hill who says he has roamed the earth on a worldwide odyssey to hunt down, and build, the ultimate burger.

Meet the Hillburger — the result of a passion which has become a fledgling business for the 42-year-old actor, foodie and former chef.

Hill’s Burger Bible

  • “If you can’t fit it in your mouth, it’s not a burger, it’s a food pile.”
  • “It should cooked medium rare — anything else, you lose the taste.”

‘No substantiated evidence of very rare’ outbreak: Dundee firm linked to venison E. coli outbreak

Blame the consumer, Bambi edition.

hqdefaultRaw venison products distributed by a company in Dundee have been linked to an outbreak of E. coli which affected nine people across Scotland.

An investigation by Health Protection Scotland found a link to certain products produced by Highland Game.

Nine people contracted the same strain of E. coli O157 after eating venison purchased raw and cooked at home.

Highland Game said there was “no substantiated evidence” of the source of the “very rare” outbreak.

Food Standards Scotland said the affected products, including Scottish Slimmers venison sausages, Scottish Slimmers venison meatballs, grillsteaks, and venison steaks with pepper sauce, had use-by dates from 4 September to 1 October.

A spokesman said the products “should not present a risk to health if they are handled and cooked properly”, but said consumers should contact the company or retailer if they had concerns.

He added: “Food Standards Scotland is working closely with Highland Game, who have confirmed that they have taken immediate precautionary action.”

A spokeswoman for Highland Game said a full inspection of the Dundee premises had been undertaken and “every assistance” given to FSS.

Scottish Slimmers venison sausagesShe said: “This is a very rare incident and venison has an excellent track record of safety and standards, and there is no substantiated evidence to support the actual source of the outbreak.

“Our stringent hygiene controls at Highland Game are second to none, however as with all meats there can be a risk of contamination somewhere in the food chain.”

Stephen Gibbs, chairman of the Scottish Venison Partnership, added: “We believe this is an isolated, rogue incident in an industry that has an exemplary record in terms of food safety. Consumers should have every confidence in continuing to eat venison – but we cannot stress enough that storage and cooking instructions should be carefully followed exactly, as with any other meat product, as well as good personal hygiene in relation to food preparation.”

Doublespeak: It’s non-O157, but it’s still STEC, Schrader farms meat market recalls beef

Schrader Farms Meat Market, a Romulus, N.Y., establishment, is recalling approximately 20 pounds of ground beef product that may be contaminated with non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.

big-brother-1984The ground beef item was produced on September 2, 2015. The following product is subject to recall:

1-lb. packages containing of “SCHRADER FARMS Meat Market Ground Beef” or “SCHRADER FARMS Meat Market GROUND BEEF, BULK” with a pack date of September 2, 2015. 

The products subject to recall bear the establishment number “Est. 44950” inside the USDA mark of inspection. These products were sold at the Schrader Farms retail store in Seneca County, New York.         

The problem was discovered during routine establishment testing, however this establishment failed to follow FSIS Notice 56-14 “Control of Agency Tested Products for Adulterants” and product was released in to commerce prematurely. FSIS and the company have received no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

Many clinical laboratories do not test for non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), such as STEC O26, O103, O45, O111, O121 or O145 because it is harder to identify than STEC O157.

‘Some pink or no pink?’ Hamburger safety BS

My latest from Texas A&M’s Center for Food Safety:

HomePage_BURGERThe UK Food Standards Agency, created in the aftermath of the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) mess, has sunk to new science-based lows and should be abolished.

This is not an evidence-based agency, but rather a lapdog for British arrogance.

For years I have criticized the FSA for their endorsement of piping hot as a safe cooking standard.

It is a regulators job to promote policies based on the best scientific evidence, not to appeal to cooking-show inspired public opinion.

For all the taxpayer-supplied millions provided to FSA the best they can do is appeal to the lowest common denominator.

FSA has published details of a proposed new approach to the preparation and service of rare (pink) burgers in food outlets.

The increased popularity of burgers served rare has prompted the FSA to look at how businesses can meet this consumer demand while ensuring public health remains protected.

hamburger.thermometerThe FSA’s long-standing advice has been that burgers should be cooked thoroughly until they are steaming hot throughout, the juices run clear and there is no pink meat left inside.

This long-standing advice is stupid, because hamburgers can appear pink yet safely cooked, or brown and undercooked. It has to do with myoglobin in the animal at the age it was slaughtered.

This research was published by Melvin Hunt of Kansas State University in 1998.

But FSA knows better.

They say controls should be in place throughout the supply chain and businesses will need to demonstrate to their local authority officer that the food safety procedures which they implement are appropriate. Examples of some of these controls are:

  • sourcing the meat only from establishments which have specific controls in place to minimise the risk of contamination of meat intended to be eaten raw or lightly cooked;
  • ensuring that the supplier carries out appropriate testing of raw meat to check that their procedures for minimising contamination are working;
  • strict temperature control to prevent growth of any bugs and appropriate preparation and cooking procedures; and,
  • providing consumer advice on menus regarding the additional risk from burgers which aren’t thoroughly cooked.

Maybe British inspectors have special bacteria-vision goggles.

Professor Guy Poppy, Chief Scientific Adviser for the Food Standards Agency, said: ‘We are clear that the best way of ensuring burgers are safe to eat is to cook them thoroughly but we acknowledge that some people choose to eat them rare. The proposals we will be discussing with the FSA board in September strike a balance between protecting public health and maintaining consumer choice.’

Not once was a thermometer mentioned. And that’s standard procedure in the U.S., Canada and Australia.

It didn’t take the Daily Mail long to point out that under the proposal, people can eat burgers that are cooked rare and pink in the middle in restaurants, but not at home or on the barbecue.

barfblog.Stick It InThe move follows pressure from some gourmet burger, pub and restaurant chains who argue that the meat tastes better if it is still pink in the middle.

The proposal, which will have to be approved by the FSA board next month, will also lift the risk of prosecution of food outlets by council environmental health officers.

Officials at the FSA say consumers should be allowed to take an adult decision when eating out whether they want to eat a burger that is pink in the middle.
But it is also arguing that people cannot take this same adult decision when cooking burgers at home.

‘The FSA’s long-standing advice has been that burgers should be cooked thoroughly until they are steaming hot throughout, the juices run clear and there is no pink meat left inside.

These piping hot morons should not be taken seriously by any scientist and should be turfed.

Color sucks. Stick it in and use a thermometer.

 Dr. Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety who shops, cooks and ferments from his home in Brisbane, Australia.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the original creator and do not necessarily represent that of the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety or Texas A&M University.

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