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Myth Buster

How Do You Know Your Hamburger Is Safely Cooked?

Myth: A hamburger that has no pink inside has been cooked to a safe temperature.

Facts: In the battle against pathogens like salmonella and E. coli 0157 in poultry and meat, a cook’s only sure-fire ally is heat. Many cooks rely on color to determine whether meat is done. For hamburgers, this means looking for a brown rather than a pink or red center. That’s not a safe strategy, according to Shelley Feist, executive director ofthe nonprofit Partnership for Food Safety Education (PFSE). “Beef can turn brown before it is cooked to the safe temperature,” says Feist, citing findings of several studies.

Federal food-safety guidelines recommend cooking hamburgers, specifically, to an internal temperature of 160 F to ensure that any potentially dangerous microbes get fried. Yet, the vast majority of consumers don’t use meat thermometers routinely, according to PFSE research.

Safety alone is reason enough to take the time to use a food thermometer when cooking meat and poultry; infections from food-borne microbes like E. coli and salmonella can result in diarrhea, brain damage and even death. But measuring meat’s temperature has a secondary benefit, too: It can help ensure great flavor. Feist says that without a thermometer, many people end up overcooking burgers and chicken in their zeal to get the pink out.

Beth Goulart is a freelance journalist based in Austin, Texas.

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