Cooking a burger? Stick a thermometer in it
Meat color is no guarantee against E. coli
August 18, 1997
Web posted at: 10:31 p.m. EDT (0231 GMT)
From Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen
(CNN) -- Barbecuers who think they're protecting themselves
against E. coli contamination by checking the middle of their
burgers to be sure they're brown are not doing the one thing
that ensures their meat is safe.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the only way to make
sure there's no E. coli garnishing your burger is to test it
with a meat thermometer.
"We're saying you need a thermometer to indicate 160
degrees," says Kaye Wachsmuth of the USDA. "The color may not
be a reliable indicator."
The USDA started telling people to use thermometers two
months ago, but it doesn't seem to have caught on.
"No," says a man cooking out in the park, "never used a
"Mm, mm," says a woman, also grilling out in a park. "Never
used a thermometer."
The USDA used to say that being brown in the middle was
enough insurance against E. coli, but now the agency has
changed its mind.
Handle it safely
Research at Kansas State University found that burgers can
look brown, but still be less than 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71
degrees Celsius) inside, the temperature at which E. coli
The recall last week of 1.2 million pounds of ground beef is
a reminder that food isn't always safe.
"The best thing the consumer can do is to know that he or she
also has the responsibility to cook their meat and poultry at
the right temperatures and handle it safely," USDA Secretary
Dan Glickman says.
Safe handling means a lot of hand washing. E. coli can spread
from person to person. In fact, only two of the four
children who died from E. coli in the Jack in the Box
incident several years ago actually ate at a Jack in the Box
restaurant. The other two caught it second-hand.
This time, however, none of the 16 people in Colorado who
became ill from eating meat contaminated by E. coli got it
from fast-food restaurants. They got sick from their own
They didn't know that hamburgers are like Thanksgiving Day
turkeys: to make sure it's done, use a thermometer.