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The #1 Worst Way to Prepare a Burger, Says Microbiologist

Eat This, Not That! logo Eat This, Not That! 10/8/2021
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Football season is well underway, and what makes a better addition to a game day spread than plump and juicy burgers?

In addition to snacks like buffalo chicken dip, chicken wings, and healthy nachos, you probably have plans to fire up the grill and whip up a few hearty burgers for guests to enjoy. However, when it comes to keeping your cheering squad healthy, you should be cognizant of the way you're preparing those patties.

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If a guest responds "the bloodier the better" after you ask them how they like their burger cooked, you might want to encourage them to reconsider. In fact, Cari Lingle, a microbiologist in 3M's Food Safety Department, discourages cooks from preparing burgers that are rare or even medium.

"Mechanical mincing and grinding of beef will take bacteria that are on the outside of the slab of meat and turn it into a uniform mixture of bacteria within the ground beef," she tells Eat This, Not That!"If any harmful bacteria exist on the outside, they get mixed in with the rest."

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If you don't cook the middle of a burger to the proper temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit, that bacteria can survive and put you and guests at risk of foodborne illness, namely E. coli.

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What's the best way to cook a burger?

To properly prepare burgers, there are a few steps to follow, starting with the way you're storing that uncooked beef.

"Raw ground beef should be stored in the refrigerator for no longer than two days. If you're buying beef ahead of time, freeze it and then thaw it within the refrigerator," Lingle says. "As a general rule, keep your fridge set to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, and keep ground beef refrigerated until you're ready to form it into patties."

Lingle suggests forming the patties ahead of time and allowing them to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes before you plop them on the grill. (Added bonus: This helps them "retain their shape!") When it's time to grill, be sure to use a meat thermometer to help you determine the internal temperature of the patty before taking it off the heat to rest before serving.

"Don't let cooked burgers sit out for more than two hours," Lingle says. "Your cooked burgers can be refrigerated for about three to four days or frozen for up to four months."

The fixings—no matter if you add ketchup, lettuce, or a slice of cheese—also shouldn't sit out for more than two hours. In order to reduce the risk of foodborne illness, consider breaking out a bowl and filling it with ice to keep these items chilled.

For more tips, be sure to read 17 Major Burger Mistakes You're Making. Then, don't forget to sign up for our newsletter!

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