Friday Rant: Burgers on The Barby – A Primer on Safe Ground Meat

We're having a mild reprieve from record breaking heat wave temperatures in the Northern U.S. at the moment, but August barbecue fare can be at least as risky as the stock market. Ground beef, chicken, turkey, pork, lamb -- and Jason's favorite, Elk -- is especially vulnerable to contamination year round, and even more so in hot weather. And if you're vegetarian, you might want to pass on the balance of this post.

When meat is ground up -- unlike steaks or chops that can be washed prior to cooking -- the entire surface area of the raw meat being processed becomes evenly distributed throughout the burger. It's a simple but potentially lethal problem. Bacteria and other contaminants can easily populate on the surface of all foods which is why all fruits, vegetables and meat products should be rinsed well with clean water and better yet, a mild saline solution. When meat is ground commercially, while there are stringent protocols followed, it is still possible for airborne contaminants to enter the mix. And once blended in, they can grow exponentially. This is also why most restaurants will not risk -- by local health ordinance or otherwise -- serving rare ground meat.

So what's a weekend griller to do if you don't like to cook the burgers beyond death? The best solution is to buy a meat grinder and DIY. It's also a fun project for the family kids. Buy whole cuts of meat, rinse them in a mild salt bath, cut into chunks and crank away with a small bag of ice on the neck of the grinder. But while point-of-prep ground meat is far tastier, alas... most of us just don't have -- or wish to spend -- our weekend time playing butcher shop. The second best alternative is to spend a few more $$ and patronize a local butcher shop on the day of your barbecue, and don't forget to take a small cooler or insulated bag with ice for transport.

Another no-no worth noting is to never freeze, thaw and cook ground meat products unless you plan to practically incinerate them. And should you mistakenly believe that so-called healthier alternatives like ground turkey are immune to caution, check out today's Wall Street Journal.

The Journal reports that "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encouraged consumers to check their refrigerators for meat that is part of the 36 million pound recall this week by Cargill, Inc., one of the largest meatpackers in the U.S. The contaminated meat is blamed for 78 illnesses, including one death in California." Specifically, "Federal officials warned Thursday that ground turkey tainted with an especially dangerous type of salmonella may still be in home freezers as they worked to prevent further illnesses from the nation's third largest meat recall."

Veggie –burgers anyone? But how the heck do you keep them from falling apart on the grill like consumer confidence? I think I'll grill ribs and hot dogs this weekend:-)

- William Busch

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