Rare Opportunity Missed: Irradiated Burgers

Rare Opportunity Missed: Irradiated Burgers
Photo by Robb Walsh

Rare hamburgers are considered dangerous by food safety experts. You can take your own chances with a burger cooked medium-rare, but you better think twice before you serve any burger cooked to less than 160 degrees F to others, as I was recently warned by microbiologist. When I said I thought it was okay because I ground my own beef, she laughed and asked me how often I sterilized my meat grinder and what kind of bleach solution I used on my cutting board.

I was about to give up, until she mentioned irradiated ground beef. If you buy irradiated ground beef and don't contaminate it, you could eat a rare burger safely, she said. So where do you find irradiated ground beef in Houston?

Remember Schwan's? I wrote off Schwan's home delivery service and their mediocre meat years ago. Turns out their ground beef is irradiated (see the spooky symbol). I had some delivered and was all set to recommend Schwan's irradiated ground beef to rare burger lovers -- until I read the back of the package. A warning tells consumers not to eat the ground beef, irradiated or not, unless it has been cooked to the burnt-to-a-crisp temperature of 165 degrees F. The warning is new, a company rep told me on the phone. It's a legal thing, she said.

I can't very well tell you Schwan's burgers are safe to eat rare, when their lawyers insist otherwise. But if you are serving burgers to an attorney this summer, I recommend you cook them to 190 degree F, and serve them on blackened buns slathered with Purell -- just to be on the safe side.


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