You may have heard that it’s not a good idea to eat undercooked hamburgers. You might have been told you should really cook your meat to a certain temperature, or noticed the labels on the packages of meat you buy that say: cook to blah blah degrees. Raise your hand if you own a kitchen thermometer, and you actually use it. You get a gold star!!
Not many kitchen cooks I know are very good about doing this. Why? Are they lazy? Nah, it’s just that most people tend to think, “I’ve always done it this way, and I haven’t killed anyone yet.” Or, “I can tell when it’s done by looking at it.” Unfortunately, this is not true. If you haven’t made anyone sick, you are either lucky, or you might actually be wrong about that.
There are a couple of kinds of thermometers. The first kind is called a bimetallic stemmed thermometer. These are cheap (couple of bucks), but they go out of whack easily and you have to insert a lot of the stem into the food to get a good reading. The good news is you can calibrate them yourself easily. The other kind is a digital thermometer, also not very expensive. These are instant read, and tip sensitive, but they take batteries. They do need replacing every once in awhile.
Remember that you can’t tell if your meat is done by looking at it! The only way to be accurate is with a thermometer. Why is that important? All meat comes with its own set of bacteria (and sometimes parasites), which can make you quite sick if it’s not cooked thoroughly. Other food needs to be cooked completely also.
Here is a handy chart of cooking times and temperatures you can refer to: https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/mintemp.html
Microwave cooking should not be overlooked. Microwaves cook food unevenly, so it’s important to follow the directions on the package carefully and allow the food to sit for the time that’s indicated. The food finishes cooking during this rest time.
The important temperatures to remember are called The Danger Zone. You don’t want to live dangerously, in The Danger Zone! In this range, bacteria live and reproduce rapidly. It is between 41 and 135. Try to keep your food OUT of these temperatures for safety. If your food is colder, or hotter, than 41 or 135, bacteria grow but very slowly. Your food should be safe for much longer and you can serve it with a smile!
For those who want to know about rare hamburgers…..this is R rated, so if you have a weak stomach, stop here. Why is is OK to eat a steak rare, but not a burger? This goes back to the production of the meat. When the cow is slaughtered, the intestinal tract of the animal is supposed to be left intact. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. Sometimes there are accidents. Poop leaks. The meat is contaminated. Yuck. So, when you buy your meat at the store, consider that it may have E. coli bacteria on it. If you cook the outside of your steak, you will be killing those bacteria. The inside is whole and untouched, so it’s OK to leave it rare. The hamburger however, has been ground, mixing up the bacteria inside, with everything else. See how that works? E. coli is not something you want to mess with, especially for children or elderly. See here: http://foodsleuthonline.com/disease-facts/
And please, folks, cook your burgers all the way! It’s not worth the bloody diarrhea – no one wants to live THAT dangerously 😉