North Carolina may be a red state politically, but many meat eaters are blue in the face crying foul over a state ban on rare burgers in restaurants. The state now requires restaurants to cook their hamburgers to a temperature of 155 degrees, which health officials say is enough to kill unhealthy bacteria such as E. coli.
While North Carolina’s citizens are still allowed to eat their hamburgers anyway they wish at home, restaurants can’t go any lower than medium on the cooking chart. Word has it that this legislation has created somewhat of an underground red meat-eating movement, a bit like the speakeasies of Prohibition days, I suppose.
North Carolina restaurants can still serve steaks rare to customers since they don’t pose the same threat as ground meat. If contaminants exist on a piece of steak they are usually on the outside and killed during the cooking process. However, when beef is ground up the bacteria is mixed inside.
Some restaurants are inadvertently breaking the law because they believe since they grind their own beef, the meat is safe.
“There is no difference in regulation pertaining to the cooking temperature if a restaurant grinds its own meat or not,” said Larry Michael, head of the food protection branch of the North Carolina Division of Environmental Health. “It is a common misconception.”
Restaurants aren’t fined if they are caught serving rare burgers, but they receive demerits that can lower their health grade scores. If the establishment receives a failing grade they can lose their license to serve food.
Some moderates in the debate support the notion of banning rare burger sales to children and the elderly since they are more susceptible to deadly consequences related to contaminated meat (in 1993, four children died during an E. coli outbreak – they were served undercooked burgers). However, they feel that adults should have the freedom to take the relatively low risk associated with a pink burger.
Those moderates may see their wishes come true. It’s possible that North Carolina will adopt the federal code by next year that allows rare burgers to be served at restaurants as long as there is a disclaimer featured in their menus.
For a healthier burger, try these recipes: