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Scientists Warn Burger Snobs of Dangers of Undercooked Ground Beef in Recent Study.

Posted in Our Blog on March 26, 2024

Scientists warn burger snobs of the dangers of undercooked ground beef in recent study. Your “medium” cooked burger may be bad for your health.

I know, I know… Burger snobs everywhere are screaming at this random content writer. But trust me on this one. It is for your own good! Keep reading to find out why.

A recent study in Finland analyzed their country’s sources of foodborne illness. Turns out, a significant number of cases comes down to undercooked ground beef hamburgers. Do the Finnish folks love their burgers more than we do? Probably not, but they have done some research into the topic in this study. The results are likely similar from country to country.

Increased Risk of Undercooked Ground Beef

Studies show that consuming a “medium” cooked patty increases your risk of foodborne illness by 30-fold.

This statistic increases as you reduce the internal temperature of the patty to “medium rare” and more so if the internal temperature is decreased to “rare” status.

Cooking Burgers to Levels of “Doneness”

While color and juiciness can be used as factors in determining a level of “doneness” in a cooked hamburger, internal temperatures are the best way to measure. A fully cooked hamburger could still be pink inside, while undercooked ground beef may appear completely brown.

For best results, form an even patty so that all parts of the burger have the same thickness. This ensures even cooking. Use an instant read food thermometer to accurately measure the level of “doneness” to ensure that your burger is both tasty and safe.

An instant read food thermometer takes the guesswork out of how long it takes for the gauge to stop moving.

Insert a clean food thermometer into the center of the burger, or in the thickest part of the meat. For thin burgers, insert the food thermometer into the hamburger patty from the side.

Level of Doneness                                          Internal Temperature

Well Done (most safe)                                           160 °F

Medium Well Done                                                155 °F

Medium                                                                    145 °F

Medium Rare                                                          135 °F

Rare                                                                          125 °F

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 160 °F. This puts a “well done” burger into done well status.

According to the USDA, ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 160 °F

If you took a peek at that link for ground beef, you may have noticed that other beef products, like steak, can be cooked to a safe 145 °F. Why is that?

Mincing Changes Safe Cooking Time

Why is 145 °F okay for a steak, but is firmly in undercooked ground beef territory? It comes down to how ground beef is processed and where the bacteria are often found.

Harmful bacteria can be found inside meat in grossly contaminated situations. But most of the time the bad bugs are on the outside of the meat. It gets there during the slaughter and processing processes. Harmful bacteria in the animals’ digestive system can contaminate the environment, equipment, and tools, which transfer those contaminants onto the surfaces of the meat.

When you mince (or grind) that meat into what we consider ground beef, those germs on the outside can mix inside.

On steaks, the meat is all in one piece. The outside of the burger is cooked to higher temperatures, killing potential pathogens. With hamburgers, those germs are on the inside. This makes it necessary to increase the internal temperature of the meat to ensure you don’t have undercooked ground beef with harmful bacteria lurking within.

Some of those bugs can cause serious and even life-threatening illness.

Common Pathogens Associated with Undercooked Ground Beef

The process of making ground beef leaves it vulnerable to any number of contaminants. From extraneous material, to chemical, and most likely bacterial.

Common pathogens associated with undercooked ground beef include Salmonella, and Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (including E. coli O157) are the most prominent.

It doesn’t take much of these bacteria to cause foodborne illness and health complications.

Symptoms of Foodborne Illness

Foodborne illness symptoms can vary from pathogen to pathogen, however most will begin with similar symptoms.

Common symptoms of foodborne illness include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain or cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever

Most people recover from foodborne illnesses on their own without medical intervention. It isn’t fun, and it isn’t easy, but the immune system does a pretty good job of fighting it off. Be sure to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and electrolytes to prevent dehydration – particularly if you are experiencing diarrhea or vomiting.

Some people, however, may experience severe illness and need to seek medical treatment.

See a doctor if you have severe symptoms, including:

  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Diarrhea that lasts more than 3 days
  • High fever (temperature over 102 °F)
  • Vomiting so often that you cannot keep fluids down
  • Signs of dehydration such as reduced urination (not peeing very much), dry mouth and/or throat, feeling dizzy when standing up

These could be signs that the germs have grown in too large of numbers for you body to fight off or that you may be experiencing serious complications that could be potentially life-threatening.

Potential Complications of Foodborne Illness You Can Get from Undercooked Ground Beef

Certain pathogens can leave the digestive system and enter other parts of the body. This can lead to serious complications that can last for weeks or even months. In some cases, these issues become permanent or fatal.

Complications may include:

  • Meningitis
  • Kidney damage
  • Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure
  • Arthritis
  • Brain and nerve damage

Higher Risk Groups

Anyone can become sick and potentially experience severe symptoms or complications from consuming contaminated food or eating undercooked ground beef. However, certain groups of people are more likely to become sick if exposed, and experience more serious infection.

These people are considered higher risk.

Higher risk groups include:

  • Adults aged 65 and older
  • Children younger than 5 years
  • Those with a weakened immune system
  • People with underlying health conditions
  • People who take certain medications (such as stomach acid reducers)
  • Pregnant people

Consider Cooking Your Burger Well Done

The next time you fire up the grill, have a burger night, or order from a restaurant, consider cooking your burger well done. It can reduce your chances of foodborne illness and maybe even save your life.

Want to Know More About Food Safety?

If you’d like to know more about food safety, like Scientists Warn Burger Snobs of Dangers of Undercooked Ground Beef in Recent Study, check out the Make Food Safe Blog. We regularly update trending topics, foodborne infections in the news, recalls, and more! Stay tuned for quality information to help keep your family safe, while The Lange Law Firm, PLLC strives to Make Food Safe!

By: Heather Van Tassell (contributing writer, non-lawyer)