Hamburger safety tips
Canada's food supply is considered one of the safest in the world. Still, if you eat undercooked ground beef it may result in a type of food poisoning that is commonly called hamburger disease. You can minimize your risk by handling and cooking raw ground beef properly.
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Some people can get a foodborne illness, also known as "food poisoning", and not even know they have it. Food poisoning is caused by eating foods that are contaminated. Raw ground beef can be contaminated with bacteria like E.coli. Two of the most common ways to be infected with E. coli are by handling raw ground beef without washing your hands afterwards and by eating ground beef that is undercooked.
Illness from E.coli usually lasts five to ten days. Most people recover completely but on rare occasions certain people may suffer more serious effects. The groups at higher risk for serious health effects include pregnant women, children under the age of 5, adults over the age of 60 and people with weakened immune systems. You should see a health care professional and contact your local public health unit as soon as possible if you think you have a foodborne illness.
You can't tell if ground beef is contaminated by the way it looks, smells, or tastes.
Cooking food at high temperatures usually kills bacteria contained in your food. However, it doesn't help to control bacteria that may have spread to your refrigerator, counters or utensils while the food was being stored or prepared. Follow the safety tips below to protect your family.
- Buy cold or frozen food at the end of your shopping trip.
- Check the "best before" date on hamburger and other meat products. These dates do not guarantee product safety but they do give you information about the freshness and potential shelf-life of the unopened foods you are buying.
- Place the beef in a separate plastic bag at the bottom of the cart to prevent it, or its juices, from making contact with other items in the grocery cart.
- If you use reusable grocery bags or bins, make sure to use a specific bag or bin for meat, poultry or seafood. Label the bag or bin with the type of food it carries.
- Wash your reusable grocery bags frequently, especially if you are carrying raw meat.
It is extremely important to keep cold food cold and hot food hot, so that your food never reaches the "temperature danger zone" where bacteria can grow quickly and cause food related illnesses.
- Keep your raw meat cold. Bacteria grow rapidly at room temperature. When you buy meat, don't leave it sitting in the car or on a counter when you get home. Refrigerate or freeze it immediately.
- Make sure your refrigerator is set at 4 °C (40 °F) or lower and your freezer at -18 °C (0 °F) or lower. This will keep your food out of the temperature danger zone between 4 °C (40 °F) to 60 °C (140 °F) where bacteria can grow quickly.
- Place the beef in a clean container or a plastic bag that will hold any leaking juices.
- Always marinade meat in the refrigerator, never at room temperature.
- Cook fresh raw ground beef within no more than one to two days after purchasing. If you do not intend to cook it within this time, it should be frozen.
The process of getting hamburgers and other beef ready for the oven, pan or grill can spread bacteria to other foods, surfaces or people. Follow the advice below to avoid getting sick.
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
- An alcohol-based hand rub can be used if soap and water are not available.
- You should always wash your hands before and after you touch raw meat, after using the washroom, after handling pets and after changing diapers.
- If you've used a plate or utensils to handle raw food, don't use them again until you've washed them thoroughly in the dishwasher or in warm, soapy water. Or use clean plates and utensils.
- Use one cutting board for produce, and a separate one for raw meat.
- Use paper towels to wipe kitchen surfaces, or change dishcloths daily to avoid the risk of cross-contamination and the spread of bacteria. Avoid using sponges, as they are harder to keep bacteria-free.
- Sanitize countertops, cutting boards and utensils before and after preparing food. Use a kitchen sanitizer (following the directions on the container) or a bleach solution (5 ml household bleach to 750 ml of water), and rinse with water.
The safest way to thaw beef is in the refrigerator. Always defrost beef in the refrigerator or in the microwave - never at room temperature.
- To thaw beef, place it in a clean container or platter that will hold any raw juices that may leak out.
- Place this container or platter on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to prevent contaminating other foods in the refrigerator.
- If you thaw by microwave, cook the meat immediately once it has thawed.
Remember, to avoid cross-contamination, thoroughly wash your hands, and clean and sanitize the sink and all other utensils, dishes, and surfaces that came into contact with raw beef and its juices.
Colour does not always tell you if hamburgers are safe to eat. Cook ground beef until the thickest part is 71ºC (160ºF)!
- Make burger patties thin so that they cook all the way through.
- Cook hamburger and other ground meats thoroughly. Ground beef can turn brown before disease-causing bacteria are killed.
- Remove the hamburger from the grill, pan or oven and use a digital thermometer to take the temperature in the thickest part of the meat. Cook until the thermometer reads at least 71ºC (160ºF).
- Follow the manufacturer's directions on the proper use of your specific food thermometer. Oven-safe meat thermometers designed for testing whole poultry and roasts during cooking are not suitable for testing beef patties.
- Make sure all the hamburgers are ready! If you are cooking more than one, take the temperature in several of the thickest patties.
- At 71°C (160°F) a safely cooked ground beef patty may vary from slight pink to brown, depending on whether the ground beef was fresh or frozen, and how it was thawed.
- Never place cooked food back on the same plate or cutting board that previously held raw food - people often make this mistake when cooking on the barbeque.
- Do not let ready-to-eat foods like lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, etc. come into contact with raw meat or its juices.
- Never use left-over marinade for basting or as a sauce, unless you boil it first to kill bacteria.
- Always wash the food thermometer and other utensils and dishware that were used on raw or partially cooked ground beef before using them to check again.
If you have leftovers make sure to refrigerate or freeze them within two hours to minimize the chance of bacteria growing. Use refrigerated leftovers within two to four days. When reheating food, make sure it's cooked to a temperature of 74 °C (165 °F). In general, you shouldn't reheat the same leftovers more than once.
How the Government of Canada protects you
The Government of Canada is committed to food safety. Health Canada establishes regulations and standards relating to the safety and nutritional quality of foods sold in Canada. Through inspection and enforcement activities, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency verifies that food sold in Canada meets Health Canada's requirements.
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