Safe to eat ground beef at restaurants that's not well done?

Despite preferring my steak medium, I’ve always requested my hamburger cooked well-done because I know better.

It’s my understanding that generally, it’s safe to eat steaks rare or medium because it’s the outside of the steak that’s potentially contaminated, and any contaminants are killed after the steak is grilled (regardless of how cooked the inside is). But ground beef is different… The outside of the meat is mixed throughout and contaminants can easily be transferred throughout the beef due to the grinding machine.

So am I paranoid to still want my burger cooked well-done? The USDA states the recommended temperature to cook ground beef is 160, which is about Medium, right? **So why would any restaurant offer to cook burgers any less than Medium? ** Salmonella is likely to make you feel sick, but isn’t E Coli is much more deadly? The reason I ask is that Chili’s states that now that they form patties in the restaurant, they will cook the burgers to any temperature(not just medium and above as previously done).

I’ve had food poisoning about 3 times in my life. It is most unpleasant. However, it has never been from red meat, which I have medium rare to rare, even burgers. I also eat carpaccio, which is completely uncooked. So out of thousands of opportunities to get e.coli I’ve never had it. I will not ever order red meat medium or above, always medium rare or less. The taste difference is enormous.

I eat steak tartare regularly at a restaurant. They grind the meat themselves (haveing presumably washed the outside too). When I make anything from ground beef (I have a meatloaf to die for–not literally), I always buy stewing cubes, wash them and grind them–easy to do in a Cuisinart.or other food processor.

What I would never do is buy premade hamburgers. I will buy ground meat in a supermarket if it is identified as to source (e.g. ground chuck).

The whole issue with ground beef is that beef ground into burger at a factory means 1 sick cow produces dozens of tons of infected hamburger as they’re all thrown in the blender together. And the blender only gets cleaned and disinfected at the end of a shift, 500 or 1000 cows later. This greatly amplifies the amount of contaminated meat coming out versus the amount that went in.

If a restaurant buys a 5 lb chunk of meat, grinds it into 5 lbs of burger, then cooks it, well either that 5 lb chunk had an infection, or it didn’t. if so, all 5lbs is tainted. If not, not. There is no amplification.

So the severity of any reaction you might get to any contamination is about the same in either case, but the odds of encountering contaminatio are thousands of times less if you buy the meat intact and grind it yuorself, or know that the restaurant who serves your burger does the same.

Because it makes a significant difference in the taste and texture of the meat, and the USDA recommendations are not the be-all end-all of the matter. Eating less-cooked ground beef does not automatically result in a problem; I’d venture it’s actually rather rare (pun not intended but gleefully acknowledged).

IME it was worse than that – last time I went, they would only cook them medium well or above. Was stuck in an airport last year where they were the only option. It was one of the worst burgers I’ve had.

ETA: I eat steak tartare about once in an average week, never had the slightest problem.

LSLGuy has a great answer. I would add to it that transportation and storage make a big difference.

If meat is ground up in the factory, it’s stored there a short time, then shipped to a restaurant or store where they store it a little longer and cook it. Even at cold temperatures, this gives bacteria plenty of time to breed; any mistake in controlling safe temperatures can accelerate growth further. Furthermore, the bacteria can spread throughout the ground meat; on a larger cut, they mostly stay on the outside.

If meat is ground up in the restaurant, the bacteria have got just a few minutes to breed. Even if you started with a terribly contaminated chunk of beef, you still have a relatively small amount of bacteria on the outside, and they have no time to multiply after the grinding exposes more surface area.

That said, I won’t go below medium even in restaurants I trust, and go well done at home.

ALL ground beef contains e.coli for reasons like LSLGuy outlines. The main question is at what levels they are present and how strong the consumer’s immune system is. That said, everyone gets exposed to e.coli every day in some form and we generally have the defenses to avoid any adverse effect whatsoever. It is all about calculated risk and the risk of something terrible happening from a restaurant burger is tiny so some of us just don’t worry about it.

Or as Eric Schlosser (author of Fast Food Nation) puts it:

“There is shit in the meat.”

More to the point, restaurant meat is just as likely to have shit in it as the meat you buy at the grocery store. Cook it thoroughly, kill off the shit-germs.

That’s not true. Beef properly butchered has no contamination from the digestive tract. It should still be cooked properly, of course.

Schlosser’s comment is inaccurate and unnecessarily inflammatory. Hamburger is mostly untested and comes from multiple slaughterhouses. It can even have components from different countries. It is as risky as you can get.

Other than your post… I’ve never heard of anyone actually washing beef. Patting it dry, perhaps, but never washing.

Ugh… if they won’t let you get it less done than that, you might as well just go to McD’s or BK. (well, when you’re not stuck in an airport anyway)

I wouldn’t worry about the hamburger meat as much as everything else.

Source: Ten Common Food Poisoning Risks - The New York Times

You might be confused about the fact that there many strains of e coli. There are strains that are living in your stomach right now, in fantastically large numbers. These are harmless. Dangerous strains are not present in ‘all’ ground beef.

A point of note however restaurants or chefs at home grinding their own beef adds addition risk of e. coli as meat cuts have no requirement to be free from e coli contamination.

Right now efficiency is what runs the slaughter houses. E coli is commonly picked up from the outside of the cows. Meat or tools can become contaminated from contact with the outside of the cows. 4 out of 5 slaughterhouses do not wash the cows before slaughter. Of the 20% that do its questionable as to whether the wash is thorough enough to decontaminate the cattle. In some cases ‘washing’ consists of a guy spraying a hose at the cows as they heard them in the doors for slaughter.

The whole issue is about assumed risk.

If you want 0 risk of e coli from hamburger don’t eat hamburger.
If you want a very slight risk eat only well done hamburger.
If your willing to pony up risk vs reward in having a good tasting burger you chances are still pretty slim but you’ve assumed more risk then the previous 2 options.

In reply to Duckster I would enquire which exactly are the organisms that are responsible for the food poisoning, because the article only loosely mentions them.

Whilst salmonella food poisoning is not pleasant, and bad cases can keep someone down for a fortnight, it is not generally considered one of the more severe forms of food poisoning, and I notice that scromobtoxic poisoning is mentioned, but this is more an allergic reaction due to the breakdown of some proteins in certain types of fish.

Green leef is held to be more likely to be responsible for Hep A, which isn’t nice either, however it is not the sheer number of infections that is the main concern, it is the severity.

E.Coli 0157 may not cause immense numbers of food poisoning, not as much as salmonella or Norwalk, however it is a much more serous infection.

Looking at raw unqualified numbers does not always give a full picture, and not in this case.

In the UK we do not have the strong US culture of eating meat that is not cooked through, and our rate per 100k population for E.Coli infection is nothing like as high. I have seen speculation that part of the US problem is that although undercooked meat culture is safe enough in whole meat, US culture then carries this over to ground meat - which of course is not as safe.

Before we let hamburger off the hook we’d better look at that cite more closely.

Consider this a friendly chiding from a carnivore who laughs in the face of E. coli but who loves truth and accuracy even more than he loves a medium rare Chateaubriand.

It should be cooked properly…why? I’m guessing you’ll agree with me that the average lump of ground beef has a non-zero chance of being contaminated with E. Coli. boytyperanma has explained things well: it’s far from certain that any given quantity of ground beef is free of dangerous E. Coli contamination, and anyone eating undercooked meat is rolling the dice (although the odds remain up for discussion).

Taken out of context, I suppose. In the book, it was offered as a (blunt) explanation for infamous epidemics of E. Coli poisoning, such as this one. The exact choice of words may indeed have been inflammatory, but I wouldn’t regard it as inaccurate. It’s not like a villian is dropping a big ice-cream-scoop of cow manure into the meat grinder, but given that the presence of E. Coli is regarded as an indicator of fecal contamination, it’s difficult to argue that there is not shit in the meat.

I prefer the low risk of food poisoning to the even lower risk of terminal cancer from the polyaromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines in overcooked meat. Overcooked meat may pose a much lower risk of food poisoning, but to say that it is safer in every respect is wrong.