USDA Urges Consumers To Use Food Thermometer When Cooking Ground Beef Patties
WASHINGTON, Aug. 11, 1998 -- Food safety officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture today urged consumers to use an accurate food thermometer when cooking ground beef patties because new research shows the color of meat is not a reliable indicator the meat has reached a temperature high enough to destroy harmful bacteria such as E. coli O157:H7.
"Consumers need to know that the only way to be sure a ground beef patty is cooked to a high enough temperature to destroy any harmful bacteria that may be present is to use a thermometer," said USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Catherine Woteki.
Thomas J. Billy, administrator of USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, explained that USDA studies show that the color of cooked ground beef patties can be quite variable. At 160 degrees F a safely cooked patty may look brown, pink or some variation of brown or pink.
"The bottom line is that if you cook your burger to 160 degrees F on an instant-read food thermometer, you can enjoy a safe, juicy burger," said Billy.
The USDA food safety officials today also recommended that consumers should not eat ground beef patties that are pink or red in the middle unless a food thermometer has been used to verify cooked temperature. USDA data show that eating pink ground beef patties without using a thermometer is a significant risk factor for foodborne illness.
"This information is especially important for those who cook or serve ground beef patties to people most at risk for foodborne illness because E. coli O157:H7 can lead to serious illness or even death," said Billy. Those most at risk include young children, the elderly and those who are immunocompromised.
USDA officials said recommendations described today are based on the research findings presented at a public meeting in Arlington, Va., on May 27. USDA researchers who prepared and cooked patties from ground beef purchased from various locations across the country found that over a quarter of the fresh ground beef patties turned prematurely brown before reaching the safe temperature of 160 degrees F.
Susan Conley, director of FSIS's Food Safety Education and Communications Staff, offers these food safety tips:
Use an accurate digital instant-read food thermometer to check the temperature throughout the patty. The temperature must reach 160 degrees F.
Digital food thermometers are designed to be used toward the end of the cooking time and register a temperature in about 10 seconds. Most digital food thermometers will read the temperature in a small area of the tip. Digital types must penetrate about 1/2 inch into the food. If a ground beef patty is not thick enough to check from the top, or if an instant-read dial type thermometer is used, the thermometer may be inserted sideways.
Large dial food thermometers designed for testing whole poultry and roasts during cooking are not suitable for testing beef patties.
At 160 degrees F a safely cooked ground beef patty may look brown, pink, or some variation of brown or pink, depending on a variety of factors, such as whether the ground beef was fresh or frozen, or how it was thawed.
Be sure to wash the thermometer immediately after testing an undercooked patty, and when cooking is completed.
When eating out, ask your server if ground beef patties have been cooked to at least 155 degrees F for 15 seconds, which is a safe option for restaurant or food service operations.
For further food safety information, call the USDA's nationwide, toll-free Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-800-535-4555 (TDD 1-800-256-7072). Specialists are available Monday-Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Eastern Time. In addition, timely food safety messages are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Visit the FSIS Web site at: http://www.fsis.usda.gov
For Further Information, Contact:
FSIS Food Safety Education and Communications Staff
Phone: (202) 720-9113
Fax: (202) 690-0460