The sizzle of a juicy burger and a thick steak on a hot grill can be music to your ears, but, if not cooked correctly, it can mean intestinal trouble or much worse. Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a Mayo Clinic infectious diseases specialist, says undercooked meat can lead to foodborne illness, so it's important to ensure your burgers and steaks are cooked properly to prevent infection.
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You may be surprised to know that what’s good for the steak is not good for the burger.
"There are important differences between steaks and hamburger," says Dr. Rajapakse.
She says your burger needs to be cooked to well-done. That’s to at least 160 degrees [Fahrenheit].
"Hamburger, obviously, is made up of ground meat, and so any bacteria that was present on the surface of the cut of meat before it was ground can be introduced into the center of the hamburger patty."
But she says it’s different with steak. "If a steak is contaminated with a bacteria, it would usually be on the surface of the steak, so heating the surface of the steak to a high temperature is usually enough to kill off any bacteria that may be there."
Dr. Rajapakse says the bacteria of greatest concern—Escherichia coli, or E. coli, can cause foodborne illness — resulting in abdominal pain, nausea and diarrhea. And some types of E. coli even can lead to kidney failure or death.
"That’s why we say it’s relatively safe to eat your steak undercooked, but hamburger meat should really be cooked through to the middle," she says.