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Frequent Flipping Means Safer Burgers

PULLMAN, Wash. — Frequent flipping is the best way to ensure that hamburgers and other thin meats are thoroughly cooked, according to research done at Washington State University.

“Our research found that either using a clamshell grill that cooks both sides of the meat simultaneously or frequent flipping in the frying pan or on the grill is the best way to assure that thin meats like hamburgers are thoroughly and evenly cooked,” said Val Hillers, retired WSU Extension food safety specialist.

Meats, especially ground meats like hamburger, need to be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. to kill bacteria.

“Of course, the only way to determine whether any meat is cooked to a safe temperature is to check it with a food thermometer,” said Hillers. “It also helps avoid overcooking.”

Research conducted by WSU food safety scientist Dong-Hyun Kang found that the traditional approach of only turning the meats once on the grill or in the frying pan often resulted in uneven heating and cool spots that could harbor bacteria, such as the strain of E. coli that can cause serious illness and even death.

“Dr. Kang’s research found that even though portions of the meat may have achieved a safe temperature, the cool spots could harbor live bacteria,” Hillers said. “His research showed that the quick, two-sided cooking provided by a clamshell-style grill was the most effective at killing dangerous food borne bacteria, and frequent turning was the most effective when cooking on the grill or in the frying pan.”

Kang’s research findings are highlighted in the educational materials developed by Hillers and Sandy McCurdy, University of Idaho Extension food safety specialist, to promote increased use of food thermometers.

Haggen Foods and Top Food stores in Washington, and Albertson’s stores in Idaho, are helping get the word out in time for the Memorial Day holiday and the summer grilling season. The stores are featuring displays and information cards in their meat sections promoting the proper use of food thermometers.

Additional information about food thermometer use can be ordered from WSU Extension. Materials include recipes with directions for using a thermometer when cooking hamburger patties, pork chops, chicken breasts, sausage patties and ground turkey patties. A brochure with additional information about using food thermometers and a video illustrating proper thermometer use also can be ordered by going to http://pubs.wsu.edu/ and entering “thermometer” in the search box.

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Media Contacts

Val Hillers, WSU Extension Food Specialist (retired), 360-678-5201