Giant Introduces a New Way To Take a Burger's Temperature
The only way to make sure a burger is safe to eat is to take its temperature, says Giant Food. So last week, all packages of ground beef sold at its supermarkets started carrying bright yellow labels that say "Use a Thermometer" and Cook to 160°F." And in every Giant meat department disposable thermometers (and regular reusable ones)popped up for sale.
"Many people are concerned about the safety of ground beef since the discovery of E. coli O157:H7 bacteria that can cause serious or fatal illness," said Odonna Mathews, Giant's vice president of consumer affairs, in announcing the information campaign. "The good news is that cooking ground beef to an internal temperature of 160 degrees kills any harmful bacteria."
But why not just cook it until it's no longer pink inside - as some experts have recommended?
It's not that simple, as it turns out.
U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers recently found that more than a quarter of the fresh ground beef patties and as many as two-thirds of the previously frozen burgers they cooked turned prematurely brown before reaching 160 degrees. Conversely, nearly half of all burgers retained some pink when cooked to the safe temperature. Aside from whether the ground beef was fresh or frozen, the color variations were a result of how the meat was thawed, whether seasonings were added and the age of the animal the particles came from.
Giant's "Don't Put It on the Bun Until It's Done" campaign, developed in cooperation with the USDA, is one of the nation's first. Wegmans, a Rochester N.Y.-based grocery chain, instituted a similar program last summer and actually increased sales of ground beef. "The information made people feel more confident about the product," said Karen Brown, senior vice president for the Food Marketing Institute, the trade association for the supermarket industry.
Still, many home cooks don't feel comfortable using a meat thermometer; about half of all Americans own one, but only 3 percent use it regularly when cooking ground beef, according to the USDA.
The disposable thermometers being sold at Giant, called T-Sticks, may help. The 2 1/2-inch-long paper probes have a plastic-coated tip with a little box inside. You insert them into the hamburgers when you think they are about done and the little box turns black in five seconds when the center of the meat reaches 160 degrees.
But people will have to get used to sticking a thermometer into something as slim as a patty; it takes practice to do it right. You need to angle and slide the thermometer halfway into the thickest part of the burger without going through to the frying pan or grill surface, or if the patty is really thin, the thermometer may have to be inserted sideways.
"Based on my experience, once you get used to using a thermometer, it's easy," said Giant's Mathews. Another benefit, she said, is that you're less likely to overcook your burgers - and "end up with hockey pucks."