You’re likely grilling your burger wrong, and it could kill you

Credit: AJC

Backyard grilling is one perk of warm weather. If not cooked correctly, however, a backyard burger can be deadly. More than 100,000 pounds of ground beef has been recalled this year because of E. coli contamination. The CDC recommends cooking ground beef to a minimum internal temperature of 160° F to prevent foodborne illnesses. Never put cooked burgers on the platter where you had the raw patties. Always wash your hands after handling any raw meat.

By now you’ve uncovered the grill and had at least one backyard cookout.

If you didn’t take the proper health safety precautions, however, you put yourself and your family at risk of getting sick — or worse.

More than 100,000 pounds of ground beef have been recalled over possible E. coli contamination in the past couple of months. Although the beef industry says it’s working to reduce foodborne pathogens in its products, contamination still occurs.

» Large E.coli outbreak linked to ground beef starting to slow down

"Since 1993, cattle farmers and ranchers have invested tens of millions of dollars in safety research programs and the industry as a whole invests over $500 million annually in beef safety research, testing and technology implementation," the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, told USA Today in an email. "Nothing is more important to the beef industry than the safety of our consumers."

Ground beef is more likely to be contaminated than poultry or whole cuts of beef, however.

"When you buy a chicken breast, how many animals is that? One. Ground beef? As many as 400 animals in commercially processed beef," Northeastern University food safety expert Darin Detwiler told USA Today. "Unless you buy steak from the grocer and grind it up yourself, you're talking about Russian roulette."

That's why ground beef has to be cooked properly. It doesn't matter if you use charcoal or gas, but it does matter that the internal temperature of the burger reach at least 160 degrees F, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

But precautions need to be taken before the patties hit the grill.

If you form your burger patties by hand, it’s important to wash your hands afterward so you don’t spread bacteria to surfaces or to other food. Be sure to thoroughly clean the area around the raw meat afterward.

After your burgers have reached an internal temperature of 160 degrees, place them on a clean plate instead of the one that held the raw patties.

» More ground beef recalled over possible E. coli contamination

No one is completely protected from foodborne illnesses, but the results can be far worse for the very young and the very old. Also susceptible are pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems.

"These patients may experience more serious illness, hospitalization may be required, and death can be the final outcome," according to the CDC.

The CDC estimates that 76 million people get sick, more than 300,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 die each year from illnesses caused by contaminated foods or beverages.

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