PULLMAN — You can’t judge a burger by its color.
Research done at Washington State University has verified that judging the doneness and safety of a cooked hamburger patty by its color isn’t a reliable test. Hamburgers that are brown all the way through can still harbor dangerous, even deadly, bacteria.
“For years people have been told that when a hamburger is brown throughout, it’s done,” says Val Hillers, retired WSU Extension food safety
specialist. “But research found that a quarter of the burgers tested had not reached a safe internal temperature even though they were brown throughout.”
Hillers says that variations in the meat can result in some burgers remaining pink in the middle although they are cooked to a safe temperature and others appearing to be brown inside when they are not
“Short of cooking them until they resemble charcoal, the best way to assure that burgers and other thin cuts of meat have been cooked to a safe
temperature is to test them with a food thermometer,” Hillers says. “Using
a food thermometer means you can be sure your meats have reached a safe temperature without overcooking them.”
With the Memorial Day holiday and the summer barbeque season fast approaching, a number of grocery stores in Washington and Idaho will help deliver that message to consumers, according to Hillers.
Haggen Foods and Top Food stores in Washington state, and Albertson’s stores in Idaho, will feature displays and place information
cards in their meat sections in time for Memorial Day on the proper use of food thermometers, especially when grilling.
The information will focus on instant-read food thermometers that work best with thin meats such as hamburger patties and chicken breasts, according to Sandy McCurdy, University of Idaho Extension food safety specialist.
McCurdy and Hillers teamed up to research food thermometer use and availability, and consumer attitudes about using them. With their team they developed educational materials on the importance and proper use of food thermometers, including a series of recipe cards that will be available in the participating stores.
“With burgers and other thin meats it’s best to insert the thermometer probe from the side so that it’s deep enough to get an accurate reading,” says Hillers. “And even though they are called ‘instant
read’ you need to allow 10 to 30 seconds to get an accurate temperature reading.”
There are two types of instant-read food thermometers commonly available, dial and digital, according to McCurdy. And, she says, advances
in technology mean the cost of thermometers is coming down.
“Dial thermometers are now available for as little as $3.99 and up to about $19,” says McCurdy. “I prefer the digital thermometers but they’re a little more expensive, running from about $9 up to about $30.”
“It’s really a minor investment when you consider the safety of the food you feed your family,” she says.
Additional information about food thermometer use is available for order from WSU Extension. Materials include recipes with directions for
using a thermometer when cooking hamburger patties, pork chops, chicken breast, sausage patties and ground turkey patties. A brochure
with additional information about using food thermometers and a video illustrating proper thermometer use are also available by going to
http://pubs.wsu.edu and entering “thermometer” in the search box.
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Related article: Flipping burgers also found important
PULLMAN — Frequent flipping is the best way to ensure that hamburgers and other thin meats are thoroughly cooked, according to research done at Washington State University.
“Our research found that either using a clamshell grill that cooks both sides of the meat simultaneously or frequent flipping in the frying
pan or on the grill is the best way to assure that thin meats like hamburgers are thoroughly and evenly cooked,” said Val Hillers, retired WSU Extension food safety specialist.
Meats, especially ground meats like hamburger, need to be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. to kill bacteria.
“Of course, the only way to determine whether any meat is cooked to a safe temperature is to check it with a food thermometer,” said Hillers. “It also helps avoid overcooking.”
Research conducted by WSU food safety scientist Dong-Hyun Kang found that the traditional approach of only turning the meats once on the
grill or in the frying pan often resulted in uneven heating and cool spots that could harbor bacteria, such as the strain of E. coli that can cause serious illness and even death.
“Dr. Kang’s research found that even though portions of the meat may have achieved a safe temperature, the cool spots could harbor live
bacteria,” Hillers said. “His research showed that the quick, two-sided cooking provided by a clamshell-style grill was the most effective at killing
dangerous food borne bacteria, and frequent turning was the most effective when cooking on the grill or in the frying pan.”
Kang’s research findings are highlighted in the educational materials developed by Hillers and Sandy McCurdy, University of Idaho Extension
food safety specialist, to promote increased use of food thermometers.
Haggen Foods and Top Food stores in Washington, and Albertson’s stores in Idaho, are helping get the word out in time for the Memorial Day holiday and the summer grilling season. The stores are featuring displays and information cards in their meat sections promoting the proper use of
Additional information about food thermometer use can be ordered from WSU Extension. Materials include recipes with directions for using a
thermometer when cooking hamburger patties, pork chops, chicken breasts, sausage patties and ground turkey patties. A brochure with additional information about using food thermometers and a video illustrating proper thermometer use also can be ordered by going to http://pubs.wsu.edu/ and entering “thermometer” in the search box.