Beef lovers: How safe are your burgers?

chow_032715_153493310If steaks are safe when cooked to 145 degrees F, why do hamburgers need to be cooked to 160 degrees? All the meat comes from the same cow, right? 

All beef comes from cattle, yes, but when it comes to food safety, ground beef is a whole different animal.

The reason is simple. Bacteria and other types of foodborne illness-causing contaminants that commonly feast on raw meat are surface creatures. As long as those steaks, roasts or chops aren’t messed with, pathogens remain close to the surface where the heat from cooking gets hottest and, given the proper time and temperature, sears them out of existence.

But as soon as raw meat is ground up, anything on the surface becomes mixed throughout. The internal temperature at the very center of the patty must get hot enough for long enough to eliminate the E. coli, Salmonella and other bugs lurking there. Research shows that most, if not all, raw meat plays host to some type of bacteria. It doesn’t matter if the meat is conventional or organic, or purchased from a mega super store or your friendly neighborhood butcher. You should just assume raw meat has some contamination and treat it with respect.

That’s why you see those warnings on restaurant menus saying, “Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish or eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness.” Unfortunately, not everyone gets the message. In 2014, a dozen people in four states, including Ohio, became ill after eating rare or medium-rare hamburgers; seven were hospitalized. E. coli O157:H7 was to blame. It’s important to note that there were likely many more people affected: For every E. coli infection confirmed in a lab, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates another 26 cases go unreported.

Four of the five Ohioans sickened in that outbreak said they ate burgers at a “gastro pub” chain that regularly cooks burgers to just 145 degrees F, boasting that it is “the temperature of a perfectly cooked medium-rare burger.” Food microbiologists tend to disagree with that assessment. In fact, food safety guidelines for food service establishments say they should cook hamburgers to 155 degrees F to be safe. At home, consumers need to cook burgers to 160 degrees because it’s likely the meat has been in and out of refrigeration periodically — such as when you’re at the grocery store or during the drive home — and thus needs an extra measure of safety during cooking.

Food safety experts’ concerns go beyond ground meat. Today, an estimated 25 percent of steaks sold in the U.S. have been “mechanically tenderized” — that is, mechanically punctured with needles or knives or injected with a 10 percent solution to make the cut more tender. The trouble is that as soon as the meat is cut into, surface contaminants get inside. With beef, you’ve got to treat those cuts of meat like hamburger and cook them thoroughly to 160 degrees F to be safe.

Unfortunately, it’s not always clear when meat has been treated this way. If the steak still has a bone, it’s likely the surface is intact. But if you’re not sure, ask the butcher for guidance.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Linnette Goard, Ohio State University Extension’s food safety, selection and management specialist.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Calcium important, dairy a good source

chow_032015_178493804A friend started a new diet, and he said he was surprised to learn milk and other dairy products can actually cause, not prevent, osteoporosis. Can you explain?

This notion pops up from time to time, but rest assured that there’s broad consensus among nutrition researchers and registered dietitians that getting enough calcium, along with vitamin D, is an important part of a healthful diet, and dairy products remain a good source of these critical nutrients.

But the factors affecting calcium absorption and how the body uses calcium are complicated, and researchers are still discovering information about it. So, be prepared to continue to hear occasional back-and-forth about the best guidance.

One of the studies often cited by those who warn people off dairy products is from 1997. This Harvard University study examined data from more than 77,000 women who self-reported their food intake in questionnaires in 1980, 1984, and 1986. Surprisingly, they found that higher reported consumption of milk and other dairy didn’t protect women against hip or bone fractures.

However, other examinations of the evidence on dairy foods and bone health indicate that the 1997 study doesn’t tell the whole story.

For example, a 2000 comprehensive review of research conducted on dairy foods and bone health between 1985 and 1999, including the above study, was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It determined that 42 percent of the studies’ findings showed favorable effects of dairy foods on bone health, while 53 percent showed insignificant effects and only 5 percent showed unfavorable effects.

One of the issues regarding dairy foods and calcium is related to dairy’s protein content. When a person eats more protein, more calcium is lost through the urine. So, wouldn’t it make sense to get calcium from foods without protein?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. There are many things that affect how the body handles calcium. While dairy might have some issues, so do other foods.

Even the “Nutrition Source” from Harvard’s School of Public Health, whose researchers conducted the 1997 study, doesn’t advocate abstaining from dairy products. Just read its article “Calcium and Milk: What’s Best for Your Bones and Health?” online at www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/calcium-full-story/. You’ll see that the authors suggest that while American adults “may not need as much calcium as is currently recommended” (which is 1,000-1,200 milligrams a day), they still recommend one daily serving of milk in addition to another 300 milligrams of calcium from other sources.

While deliberation about calcium and dairy foods is sure to continue, you can rely on this piece of guidance: Eat a balanced diet with a wide variety of nutritious foods, limited in added sugars and saturated fat, and with plenty of produce and whole grains, while maintaining a healthful weight and getting enough physical activity. If you do that, everything else should fall into place.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carolyn Gunther, Community Nutrition Education specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Chow Line: Find ways to eat nuts without adding calories

photo: iStock

photo: iStock

I’ve heard for a long time that eating nuts can be beneficial to your health. But nuts are also really high in calories. How much is enough? How much is too much?

The news about nuts keeps getting better and better. A recent study examining diets of more than 200,000 people from both the U.S. and China indicates that regular consumption of nuts — including peanut butter and peanuts, which are technically legumes, not true nuts — may reduce the risk of early death from heart disease and other causes by about 20 percent.

Another recent study looked at data from 2,000 teens in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Preliminary results indicate that young people who eat a modest amount of nuts — at least three small handfuls per week — reduce their risk of developing “metabolic syndrome.” Metabolic syndrome is diagnosed when someone has at least three of the conditions that can lead to heart disease later in life: obesity in the abdominal region, high triglycerides, low “good” cholesterol (HDLs), high blood pressure and high blood sugar.

Nuts are beneficial because they are chock-full of nutrients, including vitamin E, which may reduce development of plaques in arteries, and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s can help reduce triglycerides, lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting, decrease risk of stroke and heart failure, and reduce irregular heartbeats.

Unfortunately, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 40 percent of Americans eat enough nuts to see a health benefit. And the metabolic syndrome study on teenagers found that only 9 percent of young people ate enough.

Still, you are correct that nuts are high in calories, and those calories need to be taken into account. Most nuts contain 160-200 calories per ounce. Over the course of a year, eating an ounce of nuts a day could add up to 10 pounds on the scale if you don’t cut back calories in other ways.

In the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, nuts are considered a protein. While the guidelines recommend that the average adult eat about
5.5-6 ounces of protein a day, a half-ounce of nuts or 1 tablespoon of peanut butter is counted as a full “ounce” of protein. Generally, a half-ounce of nuts equates to a small handful — about 12 almonds, 24 pistachios or seven walnut halves, for example. But go ahead and use a food scale if you want to be sure of what you’re eating.

As long as you reduce calories from other parts of your diet, eating between a half-ounce to an ounce of nuts several times a week could be beneficial. Consider:

  • Adding walnuts to a salad.
  • Snacking on peanuts instead of chips or cookies.
  • Sprinkling peanut halves or slivered almonds onto green beans or adding ground nuts to spinach or mashed cauliflower.

Finally, opt for raw or dry-roasted and unsalted nuts most of the time. And don’t fool yourself. Eating nuts coated with sugar or nut-based candies can undermine their heart-healthy benefits.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Irene Hatsu, food security specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

News: Chow Line: Focus on what causes most foodborne illness

chow_030615_178082621What foods are most problematic when it comes to foodborne illness?

While an estimated 48 million Americans become sick and 3,000 die each year due to foodborne illness, many of those cases can’t be traced to a specific source. So, to answer questions like yours, authorities recently examined outbreaks caused by a known pathogen, which account for roughly 9 million illnesses and 1,000  fatalities annually.

The report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Food Safety and Inspection Service identified foods associated with four major foodborne pathogens: Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157, Listeria monocytogenes and Camplyobacter. They focused on these four bugs in part because of the frequency and severity of the illnesses they cause.

The report looked at foodborne illness outbreaks between 1998 and 2012, giving greater weight to those that occurred most recently, since 2008. Among the findings:

  • Beef and vegetable row crops, such as leafy vegetables, were responsible for more than 80 percent of E. coli O157 illnesses.
  • Illnesses associated with Salmonella were linked to a wide number of types of foods, with seeded vegetables (such as tomatoes), sprouts, fruits, eggs, poultry, beef and pork responsible for 77 percent of illnesses.
  • Dairy foods, most often raw milk or cheese produced from raw milk (such as unpasteurized queso fresco) were responsible for 66 percent of illnesses related to Campylobacter, and chicken was responsible for 8 percent of illnesses.
  • Half of illnesses from Listeria were caused by fruits and another 31 percent were caused by dairy foods. The researchers cautioned, however, that the high proportion of illnesses linked to fruits are due to a single large outbreak from cantaloupes in 2011.

For any type of foodborne disease, people who are most at risk for serious illness include young children, older adults, pregnant women and anyone with a condition that affects the immune system, such as diabetes, cancer, AIDS or an organ transplant. To reduce the risk, take common-sense precautions, including:

  • Know safe minimum cooking temperatures. Ground beef should be cooked to 160 degrees F, poultry (whole or ground) to 165 degrees, and pork to 145 degrees plus a three-minute rest period. Use a meat thermometer to be sure.
  • Avoid foods that are known to put you at high risk, such as raw milk or foods that have been recalled due to a food safety issue.
  • Wash hands and surfaces thoroughly and often when preparing and serving food.
  • Keep raw meat and fish, which could harbor bacteria that would be eliminated during cooking, away from fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Chill perishable foods properly. Don’t let them sit at room temperature for more than two hours.

For more guidance, see the CDC website at cdc.gov/foodsafety/prevention.html.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

What foods are most problematic when it comes to foodborne illness?

While an estimated 48 million Americans become sick and 3,000 die each year due to foodborne illness, many of those cases can’t be traced to a specific source. So, to answer questions like yours, authorities recently examined outbreaks caused by a known pathogen, which account for roughly 9 million illnesses and 1,000  fatalities annually.

The report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Food Safety and Inspection Service identified foods associated with four major foodborne pathogens: Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157, Listeria monocytogenes and Camplyobacter. They focused on these four bugs in part because of the frequency and severity of the illnesses they cause.

The report looked at foodborne illness outbreaks between 1998 and 2012, giving greater weight to those that occurred most recently, since 2008. Among the findings:

  • Beef and vegetable row crops, such as leafy vegetables, were responsible for more than 80 percent of E. coli O157 illnesses.
  • Illnesses associated with Salmonella were linked to a wide number of types of foods, with seeded vegetables (such as tomatoes), sprouts, fruits, eggs, poultry, beef and pork responsible for 77 percent of illnesses.
  • Dairy foods, most often raw milk or cheese produced from raw milk (such as unpasteurized queso fresco) were responsible for 66 percent of illnesses related to Campylobacter, and chicken was responsible for 8 percent of illnesses.
  • Half of illnesses from Listeria were caused by fruits and another 31 percent were caused by dairy foods. The researchers cautioned, however, that the high proportion of illnesses linked to fruits are due to a single large outbreak from cantaloupes in 2011.

For any type of foodborne disease, people who are most at risk for serious illness include young children, older adults, pregnant women and anyone with a condition that affects the immune system, such as diabetes, cancer, AIDS or an organ transplant. To reduce the risk, take common-sense precautions, including:

  • Know safe minimum cooking temperatures. Ground beef should be cooked to 160 degrees F, poultry (whole or ground) to 165 degrees, and pork to 145 degrees plus a three-minute rest period. Use a meat thermometer to be sure.
  • Avoid foods that are known to put you at high risk, such as raw milk or foods that have been recalled due to a food safety issue.
  • Wash hands and surfaces thoroughly and often when preparing and serving food.
  • Keep raw meat and fish, which could harbor bacteria that would be eliminated during cooking, away from fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Chill perishable foods properly. Don’t let them sit at room temperature for more than two hours.

For more guidance, see the CDC website at cdc.gov/foodsafety/prevention.html.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, food safety specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

For a PDF version of this column, please click here.