Health Watch - Beware of Burgers

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

Don't let your backyard burgers put a damper on your holiday cookout.

Backyard grilling is a traditional part of a July Fourth celebration, and nutrition experts at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say you need to observe food safety precautions to keep your cookout fun for everyone.

It's especially important to be careful when cooking hamburgers. Ground beef is the most common source of the E. coli bacteria that can cause serious illness and even death. Beef can become contaminated in slaughterhouses because even healthy cattle may carry the bacteria. Ground beef is processed more, with more of the meat surface coming in contact with processing equipment, so it's more likely to become contaminated.

In most cases, E. coli infection causes no symptoms or just some intestinal distress, but life-threatening complications occur in about 10 percent of cases. Children and the elderly are most at risk.

Fortunately, this bacteria becomes harmless when meat is well cooked. Dr. Scott Grundy, director of UT Southwestern's Center for Human Nutrition, says any meat should be handled properly. Keep meat refrigerated. Ground beef should be used within one or two days. Never put cooked meat back on a surface or dish that has held raw meat. Wash all surfaces that have come into contact with raw meat. Wash your hands before and after preparing food.

Hamburger should be cooked to the well-done stage, when all pink color is gone and juices run clear.


June 2004