- WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Just because a home-cooked hamburger looks brown
is no guarantee it is safe to eat and home cooks should use digital meat
thermometers to ensure ground beef has been cooked to at least 160 degrees
Farenheit , the U.S. Agriculture Department said Tuesday.
- ``I have one and it's fairly easy to
use,'' said Tom Billy, administrator of the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection
Service. ''It's the right thing to do to protect your family.'' Hamburgers
are behind a large number of cases of E. coli 0157:H7, an especially virulent
type of bacteria that lives in the intestinal tract of healthy animals.
The bacteria, which can cause bloody diarrhea and kidney failure in humans,
was blamed in the 1993 U.S. West Coast fast food restaurant outbreak that
killed four children and sickened 700 others. Most major fast-food chains
have since bought equipment that automatically cooks food to a safe temperature.
USDA is launching a campaign to persuade home cooks to stop guessing when
a burger is safely cooked and use a thermometer. Fewer than half of American
households own and use a meat thermometer, according to researchers.
- In a recent study of nearly 500 four-ounce
home-cooked hamburgers, USDA scientists found that some patties turn brown
well before reaching the 160 degree mark. Others may appear brown in artificial
light but pink in natural daylight, the researchers found. And whether
ground beef is fresh or frozen can also affect its color during cooking.
``Most outbreaks are occurring from ground beef prepared in the home,''
said Dr. Penny Adcock, an epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control. The CDC recently doubled its estimate of the number of E. coli
0157:H7 cases to between 20,000 and 40,000 each year.