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We've been having an ongoing discussion here on MNB about how to cook hamburgers and steaks, and what is safest.

The conversation continues....

MNB user Darren Williams wrote:

Today you commented the following:

The way food safety experts have explained it to me, the difference between steak and hamburger is that a cut of steak comes from one cow, while a pound of hamburger comes from a lot of cows, not to mention going through a processing system that is not as reliable as one would like.

It's actually a bit different that that.  Multiple food safety courses I have attended have taught that the E. Coli bacteria (which is the underlying fear of eating undercooked beef) is in the feces of the cattle that is slaughtered.  If during the slaughter process the intestine is compromised then the meat may get contaminated with the feces and in turn E. Coli.

A steak only needs to be cooked enough on the surface as the bacteria can't permeate the meat, so a rare steak is fine.  Hamburger however is ground up, thus the 'surface' of the steak is now mixed in throughout.  Undercooked burger leaves the person consuming it susceptible to illness.  Cooking a burger thoroughly eliminates the risk by killing the bacteria.
That said, I LOVE raw burger.

MNB user Mark Boyer wrote:

Kevin: the reason one might order a burger well cooked is because of the multiple surface ares in ground beef that might have become exposed to a bacteria. When a steak is cooked, the surface areas reach a temperature sufficient to kill the harmful bacteria. The bacteria is not really "in" the meat. It gets "on" the meat surface areas.

From another reader:

The difference in the safety of medium rare beef and medium rare ground beef had been explained to me as follows:

In cooking a steak, the temperature used to grill it will kill what is on the outside of the meat—i.e. where the contaminants picked up in processing the cow are located.

In cooking ground beef, however, many of the contaminants are to be found inside the burger. They got there as the contaminants on the outside were turned inward during the grinding process.  In other words, the grilling temperature does not reach the inner contaminants if not cooked fully through and so they live on---in your stomach.

And from another MNB user:

Regarding your answer to the gentleman who had concerns about eating his steak “blue” vs. eating a medium, medium-rare or rate burger. The problem with eating a burger this way vs. eating a steak this way is that that any bacteria will be found on the surface of all meats as bacteria need oxygen to exist. When you cook a steak to a “blue” degree of doneness, you are killing the bacteria (with heat) that is on the outside of the meat. When ground beef is processed (ground), you are spreading the bacteria that was on the surface throughout the burger. If the inside of the burger does not get to a 160 degree of doneness, the bacteria has not been killed. Any harmful bacteria would then be ingested and could make those with compromised immune systems (usually children or older folks) may become ill.
As I’m sure you know, this is not a meat problem as people can also get sick from eating raw vegetables that haven’t been properly washed. So enjoy that “blue” steak but be careful about eating undercooked ground beef.

MNB user Philip Bradley wrote:

I buy my ground beef at my local food co-op.  The meat department grinds the beef themselves so the ground beef is fresh.  More important, it is from beef they purchase direct from the vendor, a small cooperative cattle business.  The meat department manager visits this vendor regularly and knows their processes inside and out.  As a result, I cook my burgers rare/medium rare with no fear of food safety issues.  This is one of the many advantages of buying from a food co-op--and we are fortunate to have more than a half-dozen here in the Twin Cities metro (sorry you don't have one in your area!).  It's worth the extra cost.
MNB user Jill M. LeBrasseur wrote:

Your discussion of how you order a steak versus a hamburger reminded me of a movie quote, but I can’t remember which film it’s from and was hoping you could help me. When asked how he would like his steak cooked, the man (maybe Groucho Marx, but I’m not sure) says, “Give it to a slow waiter and have him walk it through a warm room.” Can you tell me which film this is from? It’s just about driving me crazy this morning trying to remember.

Great line. I've been trying to find the quote, but cannot identify it. Maybe someone in the MNB community can help...

MNB user Chris Weisert wrote:

I say… Eat more fish…It’s better for you anyway!

Of course, we also know that the fish we order is not always the fish we eat, since suppliers seem to be playing fast and loose with species names.

Which led MNB user Jim Dixon to write:

This is an interesting situation in the Food industry but NOT restricted to just seafood .  The Beef Industry / Foodservice / Grocers -  all have played fast and loose with product names to sell product .  “ Beef Fillet “ can mean anything – you might think of a Tenderloin Fillet but you are eating a tenderized sirloin.

Beyond the sensationalism of the Oceana announcement , what are the real facts of what they are finding ??  Does Oceana have an ax to grind with the seafood industry?

Are there situations, yes. Passing off Tilapia as snapper , Bass as Grouper , Escolare for a tuna , and so on, is totally a problem – no question .  However I really feel the problem is not as big as stated.  As  a Midwest seafood distributor , our customer base want what they ask / pay for .  Grocers are Hyper about species and country of origin.
Lets examine the real details of the mislabeling and find the facts .  Are we dealing with someone selling Farmed salmon as wild salmon ( wrong) or a Scottish salmon being sold as Norwegian salmon ( wrong but really no harm – they are the same species ) .
Lets work to solve the problem and not drop a ton of new regulations on the seafood industry .  Frankly , the customers need to educate themselves and learn about the food they eat .  Ask questions and deal with reputable dealers.

I have to say that I think that this is largely a supplier issue - my sense is that it is not retailers that are misinforming customers, but suppliers that are misinforming retailers. Not always, but most of the time.

I see no political agenda for Oceana in doing this research and filing these reports., other than the fact that Oceana is pro-conservation, and that means being responsible in our stewardship of the oceans.

Here is the hard reality. If the industry gets it right and fixes the problem, there will be no reason for new regulation. Get it wrong, though, and you will be giving the government an enormous reason to come up with new laws and regulations. Get it wrong, and you'll have no choice but to accept these new rules, and no right to whine about them.

So get it right.

We had a piece last week about how the rising cost of feed will create higher livestock prices, which will have an impact at the supermarket. MNB user Rich Heiland responded:

You can't have this discussion without putting ethanol on the table. The government supports for ethanol leading to a diversion of corn to fuel. The support goes primarily to corporate farmers though some family farmers benefit. Ethanol is the biggest waste of time and money to come down the pike and obviously, no one was thinking "unintended consequences" when it all began. Raising livestock never has been a walk in the park but ethanol, combined with drought, has added to the misery.

Regarding new federal rules that prevent commercials from being broadcast at a higher volume than the programs they accompany, one MNB user wrote:

I couldn't agree with you more on this.  This is one regulation I am all in favor of.  No more scrambling for the remote to turn the volume down when a commercial comes on so it doesn't wake the baby sleeping on the other side of the wall!  And no more accusations from Mommy that Daddy is losing his hearing.  And no more unending requests to turn down the TV.  Both of which, for some mysterious reason, only seem to occur during commercials.  Oh wait, it's no mystery.  I just hope the FTC can actually enforce it.
KC's View: