According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service, questions about “ground meat” or “hamburger” have always been in the top five food topics of calls to the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline. It is also the most consumed meat of the students in my survey of the types of meats consumed.
What is the Difference between “hamburger” and “ground beef”?
Beef fat may be added to “hamburger,” but not “ground beef,” if the meat is ground and packaged at a USDA-inspected plant. A maximum of 30% fat by weight is allowed in either hamburger or ground beef. Both hamburger and ground beef can have seasonings, but no water, phosphates, extenders, or binders added. They must be labeled in accordance with Federal Standards and Labeling Policy and marked with USDA-inspected label.
Most ground beef is ground and packaged in local stores rather than in food processing plants under USDA inspection. Even so, the Federal labeling laws on fat content apply. Most states and cities set standards for store-packaged ground beef which, by law, cannot be less than Federal standards. If products in retail stores were found to contain more than 30% fat by weight, they would be considered “adulterated” under Federal law.
Is Ground Beef Inspected and Graded?
All meat transported and sold in interstate commerce must be federally inspected. The larger cuts are usually shipped to local stores where they are ground. The Food Safety and Inspection Service carries out USDA’s responsibilities under the Federal Meat Act. These laws protect consumers by ensuring that meat products are wholesome, unadulterated, and properly marked, labeled, and packaged.
Beef grades are USDA Prime, Choice, Select, Standard, Commercial, Utility, Cutter and Canner. These are set by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. Most ground beef, however, is not graded.
What Kind of Bacteria can be found on Ground Beef; are they Dangerous?
Bacteria are everywhere in our environment. Any food of animal origin can harbor bacteria. Pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter jejuni, Listeria monocytogenes and Staphylococcus Aureus cause illness. These harmful bacteria cannot be seen or smelled.
When meat is ground, most of the meat is exposed to harmful bacteria. Bacteria multiply rapidly in temperatures between 40 and 140°F. Too keep bacterial levels low, store ground beef at 40°F or less or use within 2 days. To destroy harmful bacteria, cook ground beef to 160°F. A meat thermometer should always be used to check temperature.
Can Bacteria Spread from One Surface to Another?
Yes. It is called cross-contamination. Bacteria in raw meat juices can contaminate foods that have been cooked safely or raw foods that won’t be cooked, such as salad ingredients. Bacteria can also be present on equipment, hands and even in the air.
To avoid cross-contamination, wash your hands with soap and hot water before and after handling ground beef to make sure you don’t spread bacteria. Don’t reuse any packaging materials. Use soap and hot water to wash utensils and surfaces which have come in contact with the raw meat. Don’t put cooked hamburgers on the same platter that held the raw patties.
Is It Dangerous to Eat Raw or Undercooked Ground Beef?
Yes. Raw and undercooked meat may contain harmful bacteria. USDA recommends not eating or tasting raw or undercooked ground beef. To be sure all bacteria are destroyed, cook meat loaf, meatballs, casseroles and hamburgers to 160°F14.