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Ground Beef Safety [split from Quebec]

(Note: This post was split from the Quebec board at: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/780717 -- The Chowhound Team)

"I think the law in Quebec is the restaurant is allowed to serve you a rare burger if they grind their own beef in house"
Is this actually a law? or do some places refuse to do it to take precautions and reduce liability?

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  1. I have no clue if this is actually the law. This is what the chef at gourmet burger told me when I was trying to convince him to cook me a rare burger. So don't take my word for it.

    But I do know most places refuse to cook a rare burger because it is the law in Quebec. I am just not sure about the grind your own meat part.

    16 Replies
    1. re: wizardoflittlearmenia

      I'm no expert on meat contamination, so this is only my theory, but I think ground beef or hamburger may have stricter gov't cooking regulations than other "solid" cuts like steak simply because there's more of an opportunity for nasty bacteria to get into ground beef. It has to be cut into chunks, then fed through a grinder. This increases the handling and exposes the meat to more mechanical components that must be thoroughly cleaned, thus increasing the possibility of something getting in. Cooking to a specific internal temperature should mitigate or negate this, but that's just my theory.

      1. re: Haggisboy

        For guy with that moniker you have an amazingly poor grasp of the dangers and dynamics of meat, Haggisboy. Steaks are generally very clean cuts, because of the animal location used. Steaks are mostly pure muscle. Now think about for a sec: where does ground beef come from? It comes from all the parts of the animal that are still edible but not good enough for steak, which fetches much higher price! It's the muscle tissue around the edges of bone and organs (& alot of fat, which is less 'safe' than muscle*). Intestines and tiny bits of bone are common in ground meat.
        (*because it's soft and near the edge, if you were wondering - the animal is more likely to get an open wound around fat, and parasites can borrow and feed more easily in fat)

        Iow, it's not what gets in while cooking that's potentially dangerous, it's what's already in there!

        I don't wanna go on at length, but since this is new to you, I'll give you quick run-down: a properly run kitchen fridge has meat organized by degrees of most to least bacterial prone. Chicken is at the bottom, then other avians if present, then pork above, then beef on top. So if the beef drips onto pork, it won't give it anything worse than what already gets killed using the cooking methods for pork and so on down the shelf.... (something for all you white meat lovers to consider - chickens are extremely prone to bacteria even in the 'cleanest' cuts - they are extremely prone to parasites and worms). If the beef was below the pig and chicken, well, you've pretty much ruined your steaks cause you now have to (or at least should in good conscience) cook it all well done!
        Ground meats -very bacterial- are kept on a different shelf altogether, or at least arranged up down on the same shelf with some space between the proper cuts, and kept in large metal bowls (inside bags, of course) in case of leaking.

        Steak tartare (and rare beef steaks) are common because the best cuts of beef are virtually bacteria/parasite/whatever free, as cows in general are pretty clean, and hoofed animals haven't evolved as bad parasites and diseases as avians.

        (& please, Chowhound, do not remove this - there's nothing wrong with some general education)

        1. re: Shattered

          I am not sure what Haggisboy said that was so wrong.

          I was under the impression that, at least initially, bacteria lives on the surface of the meat. Therefore, ground beef is less "safe" because grinding increases the surface of the meat. I have bought steak in the morning and made tartar with it at night, but I would not have my butcher cut it up for me in the morning and expose all that meat to contaminants. And, I would definitely not eat something that was ground in the industrial grinder when I have no clue how often they wash it.

          1. re: hala

            I think Shattered needs to go back and re-read my post, this time a little more carefully.

            1. re: Haggisboy

              I read it, and you seemed to be under the impression that stuff in the air would cause the danger, or just the machinery's meat debris alone, without mentioning intestines. Sorry if I talked down to you, I guess I misread but it seemed you left out the most important part of the explanation.

              1. re: Shattered

                Here's the essence of my post, just to be clear:

                "ground beef or hamburger may have stricter gov't cooking regulations than other "solid" cuts like steak simply because there's more of an opportunity for nasty bacteria to get into ground beef. It has to be cut into chunks, then fed through a grinder. This increases the handling and exposes the meat to more mechanical components that must be thoroughly cleaned"

                I wasn't writing about anything "in the air". Hamburger is essentially a processed meat, and depending on the jurisdiction in which it's made, can contain additives. The increased handling of the meat from slaughterhouse workers or butchers, plus whatever else is deemed allowed to be added, coupled with the exposure to grinding machinery which must be kept rigorously clean, bumps up the odds of bacteria infiltrating the meat. It could be something as simple as a grinding machine that was not properly cleaned (think of Maple Leaf foods in Canada and their listeria shutdowns). It could be a plant worker or butcher who didn't change his gloves often enough, or (shudder) failed to properly wash his hands after a trip to the washroom. One of the reasons why so much care has to be taken with poultry is because the slaughtered birds are dipped in (often) fetid pools of hot water to help remove the feathers, and the innards are scooped out by automated machines that can tend to cause blood and fecal matter to spray around. When it comes to meat, any meat, the more it gets handled and processed without being cooked, the greater the risk of little nasties finding a home.

          2. re: Shattered

            e-coli and salmonella contamination occurs during processing
            also your final comment is completely wrong

            1. re: celfie

              I think we're all talking about the same thing here. Which comment is wrong?

              1. re: Haggisboy

                shattered's dateline exclusive

                1. re: celfie

                  Grinding the beef yourself or from a reputable butcher should suffice. It's the pre-ground stuff and the pre made groceries patties that are a risk as they typically contain "meat" from other parts of the cow. This is why their is always a cry to cook your burgers well done.

                  Asking your butcher to grind some chuck on premises should alleviate any concerns for a rare homemade burger.

                  I have no idea though if beef chuck is more prone to bacteria than other cuts. I have always been under the assumption that the grinding and mixing of beef leftovers was the issue with "hamburgers".

                  1. re: ios94

                    ios94: That's exactly what I said.

              2. re: celfie

                @celfie: And how is it wrong? What does "dateline exclusive" mean? I didn't discuss a timeline at all.

                1. re: Shattered

                  dateline nbc, the investigative news magazine show

                  1. re: celfie

                    yes, I've heard of the show. And...?

              3. re: Shattered

                In reference to Shattered's initial post:
                Appleholme above has already given out the accurate information so I won't dwell on the real reasons why ground beef is less safe than solid cuts. However I would like to point out more of the many bits of inaccurate information that you have included in your post - just my own way to provide "some general education". I will also do my best to be a bit less condescending about it than you were to haggisboy.
                - there are no intestines or bits of bone, or other viscera in the ground beef that you buy at grocery stores (unless a pretty bad error has been made at the packing plant). Ground beef is mainly made from the meat of "reformed" cows, ie old cows and bulls whose meat is tougher, often dairy cows sent to slaughter at the end of their useful life. Some of it may also be from prime beef steers and heifers, from the bits of meat near bones, as you mentioned, but most of the meat from prime animals is used for the solid cuts of meat, not for ground beef. You're probably confusing ground beef with poor quality sausage meat, often pork sausage, which often contains a lot more of gristle and tripe.
                - the bacterial contamination in ground meat does not come from mixing intestinal tissue in with the rest of the meat. It comes from leakage of intestinal content onto surface of the carcass, which occurs when the gastrointestinal tract is improperly cut off from the carcass. This contamination occurs more often now than in past times, at least in north america, because slaughterhouse employees are now poorly paid, poorly trained, disposable labor, because of the corporatization of the meat industry.
                - your argument about fat being less safe than meat is nonsense. If an animal had an open wound, the area of the wound (or the whole animal) would be condemned at slaughter and kept out of the food chain. Of course if there is fat around a cut of meat, it is on the surface, so more prone to surface contamination, but that has nothing to do with it being fat tissue.
                - poultry meat can also have bacterial contamination, basically for the same reasons as beef: surface contamination of the meat by improper dissection of the gi tract at slaughter. In addition the feathers and skin of birds often are soiled with feces, and the speed of slaughter and processing in chicken plants is a lot faster and intense than in cattle slaughterhouse, and all this and this makes the slaughterhouse environment more prone to cause contamination of the meat. None of this has anything to do with poultry having "evolved bad parasites and diseases" or being more "prone to worms". Parasites and worms are found in any and all animal species, but they are not a food safety risk for poultry or beef (none of the common ones are transmissible to humans in normal food production situations). Parasites are only a safety risk in pork (trichinella and toxoplasma) and perhaps lamb (toxoplasma), where they are present within the meat itself (not from surface contamination), which is why pork needs to be cooked through, and lamb should be as well if you are immunocompromised or pregnant.
                - "Hoofed animals not having evolved as bad parasites and diseases as avians": complete nonsense, as explained above. All animals have "bad" diseases, and some of the ones you can get from inadequately cooked ground beef (such as E.coli hemolytic-uremic syndrome) is a hell of a lot more serious than some humdrum campylobacter diarrhea you'll get from bad chicken.
                - "Cows are pretty clean": you may have spent some time in a restaurant kitchen, but you obviously have not been on cattle farms much.

                1. re: johnnyboy

                  Fair enough. You've agreed with much of what I was saying about processing methods, and clarified about parasites. However, I read a study showing most random samples of grocery store-bought ground meats do contain minute traces of bone, but I can't find a link now. Also, chickens are more prone to disease (which may very well harm humans, so better to be safe than sorry), and not just due to the processing stage. Any butcher or farmer can tell you this, it's common knowledge. I've already explained how meat is organized in the fridges at restaurants. This isn't just superstition or "the way things have always been done"; there is science behind it.

          3. There is no e.coli in the muscle of living animals. Meat is only exposed to the e.coli that is present in the digestive tract during processing. There is no reason to bring the internal meat of a steak or roast to e. coli killing temperatures since it has never been exposed to processing. This is true whether the cut comes from the chuck, sirloin, rump, or whatever.

            Hamburger or ground meat is a concern since the interior meat is exposed to processing. Entire batches of factory ground beef can be exposed by simply one chunk having been cut too close to the intestines, and the grinding machine subsequently exposing all the beef that follows. There are safety precautions, including the amount of beef that can be processed on a single machine prior to re-disinfecting, but batches of beef can get through.

            Buying chunks of beef and grinding it yourself is certainly a better option, but it is not 100% guaranteed. The germ could already be on the external surface of the chunk. Of course, if it's a steak or roast, the outside is cooked thoroughly even if the inside is rare, so this is not a problem. But as ground meat, even if you do this yourself at home, leaving the inside rare could mean leaving e. coli in tact.

            I grind all my own meat - all kinds. And I eat my hamburger rare. I consider it risky, but not too much. I do like it completely raw (tartare or yu kwe), but I use a technique used in some restaurants that wastes some meat, but virtually guarantees 100% safety. I blanche the chunk of meat in boiling water for a few minutes, then cut off the thin, cooked outer surface. What's left is pretty darn safe.

            6 Replies
            1. re: applehome

              Thanks for the accuracy.

              1. re: applehome

                That's exactly what I said! Muscle meat is safe, that's why steak is safe! And ground meat is exposed to intestine! That's exactly what I said. What part of that was not perfectly clear the first time?

                1. re: Shattered

                  You've done some editing. Good for you. I've done some editing as well - took out the one sentence about your being wrong, particularly about the safety of meat by cut. I intended my sentence not as personal commentary but as a warning to others. Unfortunately, your personal commentary to Haggisboy remains intact. Let's both try to make our next posts with less personal commentary about the previous poster - I know that I try to remember that what we write stays available for the entire world to read forever.

                  1. re: applehome

                    I actually haven't edited my initial post at all. And I apologized if I seemed to be talking down to Haggisboy in my initial reply, and have edited that further. Maybe I misread, but it seemed to me his explanation left out the most crucial detail: intestines.

                2. re: applehome

                  I would say that you might want to read a little more about how animals are processed in the big 4 slaughterhouses before deducing that muscle cuts are safe meat because they don't get exposed to e.coli from the digestive tract. That's just not true. If processes emphasized cleanliness, safety and careful cutting with no risk of contamination, that would be true, but the only thing that's emphasized is speed, and the other factors often fall by the wayside.

                  1. re: applehome

                    Good info, but IMO you overlook three important points - the varying qualities of bacterial growth media, the relevance of surface area, and the correlation between number of bacteria consumed and the likelihood of developing hemorrhagic colitis.

                    The outside of a steak or roast is exposed to air and light, so even if there is some surface contamination, the bacteria are unlikely to thrive. The inside of a chub of hamburger, by contrast, is dark and moist. Let it warm up a bit and you've got a nearly ideal environment for the little buggers to be fruitful and multiply.

                    Then there's the fact that compared to a solid muscle cut, ground meat has exponentially more surface area for bacteria to grow on. So not only does warm ground beef provide a better quality growth medium, the quantity is far larger, too. It's a recipe (so to speak) for producing large quantities of pathogens.

                    And quantity does matter. The more e. coli bacteria you ingest, the more likely it is that you will become ill.

                    So it strikes me that the dip in boiling water is probably unnecessary, except to the extent that it provides some peace of mind. I just thoroughly rinse any cut that's going to be ground up or consumed raw. IMO the risks involved are minimal.

                  2. Ever since I was a kid, I'd always take a bite out of the raw hamburger, really quite delicious! never got sick and am not recommending people do this.. just my experience.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: arktos

                      It's possible that when you were a kid, ground beef was safer than it is today. (Not that I'm insinuating that you're old!) It's kind of ironic that in the days before factory farms when meat was processed by smaller companies and butchered by career artisans the product was probably safer than it is today. Much, much safer in fact.

                      1. re: SherBel

                        Absolutely agree with that.

                    2. so, does anybody know the law in Quebec?