Are Your Burgers, Steaks and Meats Cooked Safely?
Grilling out? Are you sure your burgers are really cooked safely? Our dietitian weighs in.
By: Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD
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Some people prefer their meat on the rare side. But 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.
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 okay to cook your meat a little longer if you prefer it more well 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.
Turns out, undercooked meat isn’t the only hazard. Meats cooked at a very high temperature can also cause problems.
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 F (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:
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.