Getting Down to the Meat of the Issue

Food service establishments have long been under the direction of multiple requirements from government agencies and their own management teams. These requirements are in place to keep employees and patrons safe from injury and illness, and to protect restaurants from liability. Requirements deal with all aspects of the restaurant business – from food preparation to dining room occupancy.

One organization, the American Association of Meat Processors (AAMP), is asking for one more regulation to be put in place. The AAMP asked the Conference for Food Protection (CMP) to recommend that a ban on serving “undercooked ground beef product to consumers” should be added to the FDA Food Code.

Playing it Safe

This may seem like a no-brainer to some foodies, since there is certainly a risk associated with consuming any type of undercooked meat. Some consumers are so wary of uncooked or undercooked foods that they steer clear of some common foods like sushi and raw oysters, and even order their steaks well done.

Undercooked meats have been blamed for E. coli outbreaks on more than one occasion and any number of other pathogens can be equally dangerous to consumers. Most of these food-related illnesses can by avoided by thoroughly cooking all meats. Many consumers would feel safer knowing that all restaurants were required by law to cook their hamburger meat to 160 degrees.

Not only would some customers feel more comfortable with these types of regulations, but restaurant owners could be more confident in their kitchens’ food preparation. If it was absolutely illegal to serve anything but fully cooked hamburger meat, cooks would have to be certain to use a meat thermometer consistently. The extra time that checking the temperature would take is almost not even worth mentioning because it would only add a few seconds to the cook time of each dish for which it was required.

Again, the benefits of this regulation seem to make decision of whether or not to enact it a simple one.

Back off My Burger!

However, there are others who would whole-heartedly disagree with a regulation dealing with ground beef cooking temps. But why would anyone have a problem with making restaurants accountable for only serving safe food? In a word: burgers.

To some extreme burger aficionados, a well done hamburger is no burger at all! To these people, a regulation that forces restaurants to serve only well done burgers would constitute too much government control over personal choices. With this view, only people who want to consume undercooked meat are doing so, so the government has no business regulating how they eat their burger.

Loss of Business with Loss of Choice

Also, some restaurants could actually lose business over this type of regulation. At most fast food or casual dining establishments, patrons cannot get a burger cooked to order. In other words, all burgers are already well done. If restaurants that allow more personalization are no longer able to do so, they could very well lose some customers to the average burger joint down the street. These restaurateurs and other opponents of cooking temperature regulations would argue that consumers are already warned that consuming raw or undercooked meat can be harmful.

Therefore, the liability for food safety should fall on the customer who makes the decision to order and consume undercooked meat.

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