Ground Beef Food Safety

All meat potentially contains harmful bacteria that—if not destroyed by cooking to a proper temperature—can cause foodborne illness.

Furthermore, if bacteria are present when beef is ground, then more of the meat surface is exposed to the harmful bacteria. Grinding allows any bacteria present on the surface to be mixed throughout the meat.

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Cook to Safe Internal Min. Temperature

To destroy harmful bacteria in ground beef, cook it to a safe minimum internal temperature of 160°F.

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What kind of bacteria can be in ground beef?

The pathogenic (illness-causing) bacteria generally found in ground beef are E. coli and Salmonella. These harmful bacteria cannot be seen or smelled.

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Temperature Danger Zone

Bacteria multiply rapidly in the “Danger Zone” — temperatures between 40°F and 140°F.

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Four Basic Food Safe Steps

In every step of food preparation, follow the four basic rules — Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.

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CLEAN

Wash hands and surfaces often. Unless you wash your hands, utensils, and surfaces the right way, you could spread bacteria to your food, and your family. Wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before and after handling ground beef to make sure you don’t spread bacteria.

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SEPARATE

Keep raw and ready-to-eat meats separate.  Make it a household rule to use the refrigerator meat drawer for ready-to-eat foods, like cheese and deli meats, and do not store raw foods here.  (Or, if you use the meat drawer for raw meats, store ready-to-eat foods in another location in the refrigerator.)

Wash hands thoroughly before and after handling raw ground beef. Wash cutting boards, bowls, and utensils used to prepare raw ground beef with hot soapy water and rinse well.  As an extra precaution, a solution made from one teaspoon of unscented chlorine bleach in one quart of water can be used to sanitize the clean kitchen tools.

Use separate plates to carry raw ground beef patties to the cooking area and cooked patties to the serving area.

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COOK

Cook to the right temperature. To destroy harmful bacteria, cook ground beef to a safe minimum internal temperature of 160°F (71.1°C) as measured with a food thermometer.

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CHILL

Refrigerate promptly. Illness-causing bacteria can grow in perishable foods within 2 hours unless you refrigerate them.

 

Symptoms of Foodborne Illness

  • Common symptoms of foodborne illness are diarrhea and/or vomiting, typically lasting 1 to 7 days. Other symptoms might include abdominal cramps, nausea, fever, joint/back aches, and fatigue.
  • What some people call the “stomach flu” may actually be a foodborne illness caused by a pathogen (i.e., virus, bacteria, or parasite) in contaminated food or drink.
  • The incubation period (the time between exposure to the pathogen and onset of symptoms) can range from several hours to 1 week.
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People with Increased Risk for Foodborne Illness

Foodborne illness can affect anyone who eats contaminated food. However, certain populations are more susceptible to becoming ill with a greater severity of illness. These groups include:

  • Pregnant women;
  • Infants and young children;
  • Older adults;
  • People taking certain kinds of medications or with immune systems weakened from medical conditions, such as diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, organ transplants, HIV/AIDS, or from receiving chemotherapy or radiation treatment.

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Most people with a foodborne illness get better without medical treatment, but people with severe symptoms should see their doctor.

Summary

All meat potentially contains harmful bacteria that—if not destroyed by cooking to a proper temperature—can cause foodborne illness. Also, if bacteria are present when beef is ground, then more of the meat surface is exposed to the harmful bacteria.