December 13, 2020/Nutrition

Are Your Burgers, Steaks and Meats Cooked Safely?

A guide to cooking or ordering in a restaurant

grilling meat testing temperature if done

Some people prefer their meat on the rare side. “As a registered dietitian, I want my patients to be aware that tasting or eating undercooked meat can cause food poisoning. It’s important to understand what ‘undercooked’ really means as it applies to different meats and cuts,” says dietitian Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

How long to cook meat

Meat may contain poisonous bacteria or parasites (e.g., E. coli, salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, Yersinia enterocolitica, Listeria, trichinosis). These bacteria or parasites can cause flu-like symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, fever and chills. The symptoms can be very painful and sometimes last for several days.

Here are some tips to avoid foodborne illness. Keep in mind, these are minimum temperature requirements, so it’s OK to cook your meat a little longer if you prefer it more well done.

  • Ground beef must be heated throughout to a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Steaks, roasts and pork should be heated to 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Poultry should be heated to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Beef, veal, lamb and pork should also be allowed to rest three minutes after cooking before being served. During the rest time, the temperature of the meat will remain constant or continue to rise, which will destroy harmful germs.

How you can tell when meat is done

Unfortunately, you can’t tell whether meat is safely cooked just by looking at it. Any cooked, uncured red meats – including pork – can be pink, even when the meat has reached a safe internal temperature. A safely cooked hamburger patty may look brown, pink or some variation of brown or pink.


The only fail-safe method for determining whether or not meat is done is to check its internal temperature using a meat thermometer. Of course, this isn’t practical in a restaurant. Restaurants do use varying guidelines to determine what temperatures constitute rare, medium rare, medium, etc. But in most instances, if you order steaks to be cooked at least to medium and burgers to well done, you should meet the minimum temperature requirements.

The dangers of overcooking meat

Turns out, undercooked meat isn’t the only hazard. Meats cooked at a very high temperature can also cause problems.

Researchers have found that high consumption of well-done, fried or barbecued meats is associated with an increased risk of colorectal, pancreatic or prostate cancer.

When beef, pork, fish or poultry is cooked using high-temperature methods, such as pan frying or grilling directly over an open flame, they form chemicals known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). HCAs and PAHs cause changes in DNA that may increase your risk for cancer.

Meats cooked at high temperatures, especially above 300 degrees Fahrenheit​ (as in grilling or pan frying), or that are cooked for a long time tend to form more HCAs. For example, well done, grilled or barbecued chicken and steak all have high concentrations of HCAs. Cooking methods that expose meat to smoke or charring contribute to PAH formation.

According to the National Cancer Institute, there are several methods for reducing your risk of exposure to HCAs/PAHs, including:

  • Avoid prolonged cooking times (especially at high temperatures).
  • Use a microwave oven to cook meat prior to exposure to high temperatures to reduce the time the meat must be in contact with high heat to finish cooking.
  • Continuously turn meat over on a high heat source as opposed to just leaving the meat on the heat source without frequent flipping.
  • Remove charred portions of meat.
  • Do not make gravy from meat drippings.

When it comes to cooking or ordering meat in a restaurant, keep these tips in mind to lower the risk of foodborne illness or exposure to HCAs.


Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Big open jar of pickles
May 22, 2024/Nutrition
Are Pickles Good for You?

Pickles are low in fat and calories and rich in some vitamins and minerals, but they’re usually high in sodium

Person scooping up water in hands from creek
May 10, 2024/Nutrition
The Dangers of Drinking Spring Water and Raw Water

Drinking untreated water can have dangerous consequences, like bacterial infections

Person reflecting on food and exercise
May 9, 2024/Mental Health
The Importance of Understanding Your Eating Habits

Learning about your relationship with food can help improve your eating behaviors and patterns

Bowl of partially peeled tamarind
May 8, 2024/Nutrition
5 Reasons To Try Tamarind

With a sweet, tangy flavor, this tropical fruit is super versatile and high in antioxidants

Yogurt, granola, fruit parfatis, with fruit on cutting boards
April 26, 2024/Lung
What To Eat When You Have COPD

A change in diet won’t cure COPD — but getting to or maintaining a healthy weight will help

Person on scale, questioning muscle weight vs. fat weight
April 12, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
The Difference Between Muscle Weight vs. Fat Weight

Both are needed for a healthy body

Turkey wrap cut in half on butcher board, with lettuce, tomato, cheese, onion
April 3, 2024/Nutrition
Is Your Sandwich Healthy? What About Your Wrap?

Wrapped or sandwiched, try to choose fillings and condiments that are minimally processed, low in saturated fat and high in fiber

Person monitoring nutritional intake on smartphone app while eating a salad
April 1, 2024/Weight Loss
How Many Calories Should You Eat in a Day?

It depends on factors like your age, activity level and if you want to maintain, lose or gain weight

Trending Topics

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

woman snacking on raisins and nuts
52 Foods High In Iron

Pump up your iron intake with foods like tuna, tofu and turkey