Meat Industry INSIGHTS Newsletter

970604 Use a Thermometer When Cooking Hamburger

USDA has advised consumers to use a meat thermometer when cooking hamburger -- and not rely on the internal color of the meat -- to be sure that it is safe to eat. To be safe from harmful bacteria such as E. Coli O157:H7, ground beef must be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service said the emphasis on using a meat thermometer results from research that indicates some ground meat may turn prematurely brown before a safe internal temperature of 160 F has been reached.

"New research shows that the phenomenon of premature browning may be more prevalent than originally thought, and may occur under normal consumer handling conditions," said Thomas J. Billy, administrator of FSIS. "FSIS is conducting a survey and risk assessment to confirm and extend observations on the premature browning effect. FSIS will also convene an open meeting to call for additional research and to discuss all of the issues surrounding safe cooking of hamburger," Billy said.

FoodNet, the foodborne disease surveillance system sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and FSIS, is analyzing data from E. Coli 0157:H7 case-control studies to determine risk factors for the illness. Initial data from the Minnesota State Health Department has shown that there is an association of the illness with the consumption of hamburgers prepared in the home that are pink on the inside.

"However, we are aware of other research findings that show some ground meat patties safely cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit or above, may remain pink in color for a variety of reasons," Billy said. "In the face of this new research and seemingly conflicting data and viewpoints, FSIS alerts consumers that the color of meat is no longer considered a reliable indicator of ground beef safety. A meat thermometer is the most reliable way to reduce the risk of foodborne illness."

Susan Conley, director of FSIS's Food Safety Education and Communications Staff, offers these additional tips for thermometer use:

  • Use an "Instant-read" thermometer to check patty temperatures. They are designed to be used toward the end of the cooking time and register a temperature in about 15 seconds.
  • Check the stem of the instant-read thermometer for an indentation that shows how deep it must penetrate the meat to get an accurate temperature reading. Most digital thermometers will read the temperature in a small area of the tip. Dial types must penetrate about 2 inches into the food.
  • The meat thermometer should penetrate the thickest part of the hamburger. If a beef patty is not thick enough to check from the top, the thermometer may be inserted sideways.
  • In addition to the recommended 160 F internal temperature for ground meat, the following safe temperatures are advised for these other foods: Beef roasts, steaks and chops should be cooked to 145 F for medium rare; 160 F for medium, and 170 F for well-done; Pork roasts, steaks and chops should be cooked to 160 F for medium, and 170 F for well-done; Whole chicken or turkey should be cooked to 180 F. Breasts should be cooked to 170 F.
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