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Jul 19, 2007 06:07 AM

Hamburger and E. coli

I was on the Food Network this morning reading up on unusual hamburger recipes and I noticed that most of the instructions said to cook to desired level of doneness.

I'm from Canada, and up here, it's pretty much accepted that hamburgers are only served well-done because of E. coli. When I was in the US, however, I visited an Outback and was surprised when they asked how I'd like my burger cooked. I chose medium and had one of the best burgers of my life.

Is it common for Americans to eat burgers cooked to less than well-done? Does anyone actually know about how risky this is for E. coli (are we just being paranoid in Canada)? I would love to make some medium burgers at home without having to grind my own meat, but unless the risk is relatively low, I'm not sure I want to take the chance.

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  1. Out of all of my friends & family (I'm from the States), I only have one friend who likes her burger well-done! ("burnt-to-a-crisp", she calls it!) I think it's very common for Americans to have their burgers cooked less than well-done. I love my burgers cooked medium too, but my husband loves his mooing! (aka rare!) These days, a lot of restaurants won't serve a rare burger - other than that, they'll cook it the way you want it. It's all about cooking to the right food temperature. I think you'll be pretty safe cooking medium burgers at home with store-bought ground beef. I've been doing that at home for as long as I can remember. For extra piece of mind though, you might want to get a meat thermometer to use. Can't hurt, and it'll help you enjoy your homemade burgers that much more!

    1. Bringing the burger up to 70*C for two minutes will reduce any E. coli that might have contaminated the beef to non-pathogenic levels. It is also worthy to note that grass fed beef is FAR less likely to be contaminated with the strain of E. coli (O157:H7) that is pathogenic to humans. The practice of grain/corn feeding to bulk up the cattle lowers the pH of their digestive tract and provides an ideal place for O157 to proliferate.

      4 Replies
      1. re: LabRat

        You need to get up to 160*F (>71.1*C) in the coldest (center) place of your food in order to kill E.coli. This means if the middle of the hamburger gets to that temperature the outside will be much higher....also if at that point you remove the burger from the heat source the core will still increase in temperature so in reality you will be above 160*F. As far as I know there is no such thing as "non-pathogenic level"....if you have E.coli detectable in your product you are in trouble....that is not to say that some people with string immune systems might be able to tolerate substantial doses of E.coli without getting sick. Anyway, I occasionaly make home made burgers using whole muscle cuts that can be cooked to medium-rare level but will NEVER eat commercial burgers unless they are V.WELL trip to a "production" facility making burgers "curred" me for ever....

        1. re: Pollo

          1. Not all strains of E. Coli are harmful.

          2. The med-rare burgers you make at home with whole muscle cuts can also be contaminated.

          3. Are you commenting on facilities that make pre-formed burgers, or ground meat in general? I wasn't sure.

          4. It isn't just cows that carry E. Coli. You are also a carrier. So am I and every other person on this board.

          1. re: QueenB

            See LabRat's post...we are talking about O157:H7 E.coli...
            1. No argument there....not all strains of E.coli are harmful hence we are not that concerned about these however detection of E.coli (generic) indicates unhigenic conditions....
            2. Technically yes but practically no....whole muscle cuts are generally v. "clean" can almost say that internal portions of the muscle are "sterile".....
            3. Both....some facilities only make ground meat.....others make ground meat + pre-form burgers....
            4. agument that (almost) everyone carries E.coli bugs but these E.coli do not make you sick....

            1. re: Pollo

              You weren't specific to O157:H7, so I thought you meant all E. coli. Thanks for the clarification.

              Yes, the internal portions of the muscle are much cleaner than the outside, but when you grind, you are combining the outer portions of the meat with the inner portions, are you not? Which would contaminate the entire product, if the outside of the meat is contaminated by the butchering process, correct?

              Thanks also on the clarification of the pre-formed burgers vs. just ground meat. :-)

      2. Most meat-lovers on Chowhound will tell you that cooking a burger well done is tantamount to treason. I've been cooking burgers medium-rare for as long a I've been able to flip a spatula, often with ordinary grocery store beef, and have never gotten sick. Neither have any of my guests.

        1 Reply
        1. re: mojoeater

          All I can say...good for you and I hope you never get sick....but if people knew/realized what happens if you have acute renal failure......As I said before burgers are much better when done to medium well and I do that with burgers that I make....but way....

        2. if you want safer meat, get grass fed or organic beef from a small producer, one with a small processor. most e. coli in beef happens w cross-contamination when the meat from hundreds of animals is mixed in huge processing plants. 50% of feedlot cattle test positive for e-coli in the summer months, this # drops in winter.

          2 Replies
          1. re: soupkitten

   or not it makes no difference...cows can and are carriers of E.coli without beeing visibly so unless you test every single animal you are about to process you are out of luck....if you see how catle are "processed" and what cuts end up as burgers eating burgers undercooked is playing russian rulete (with an AK47...and full clip....)

            1. re: Pollo

              right. i do see cattle being processed, by small processors; i know that when you have a small number of healthy animals butchered and their meat individually ground, its much safer than getting factory meat. when the meat from 100s or 1000s of animals is mixed in a vat and ground over the same equipment in arguable sanitary conditions--that, to me, is playing russian roulette. so our advice differs-- i say trust your source, you say cook the &*^&^ out of it-- guess it depends on priorities.

          2. I'd say its extremely common for Americans to eat burgers much less than well done. Medium or medium rare is probably the most commonly requested doneness.

            You'll run the biggest risk using preground supermarket ground beef and the least risk grinding your own from a piece of steak. A nice happy balance would be go to a good butcher and have them grind up fresh meat for you. Then you can enjoy nice medium rare burgers and not dried shoe leather patties.

            1 Reply
            1. re: ESNY

              We watch for chuck roast to be on sale and then request that it be ground. Much less risk than buying ground in bulk hamburber.