In honor of National BBQ Month, now is the perfect time to post a reminder about safe food handling and cooking practices that can significantly reduce your risk of becoming ill from a foodborne pathogen like E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, Campylobacter, or Norovirus, just to name a few. 

Thankfully, Chris Macias over at the Sacramento Bee had the same idea and just posted a great article on the subject here.


Don’t expect to see rare meat when Christine Bruhn bites into a hamburger. She researches food safety and consumer issues at UC Davis’ Department of Food Science and Technology, and she knows it doesn’t take much undercooked ground beef to make a person seriously sick.

"Just 10 cells of E. coli can send a person to the hospital," says Bruhn. "Life’s too precious to spend hours bent over the toilet, or worse."

Here are some tips from Bruhn to keep in mind during your cookouts:

  • Be careful of cross-contamination: "Some people use the same plate to carry both the raw and cooked (food). People might rinse the plate, but those bacteria are still there. Water is not enough. You need a clean plate."

Same goes for that burger-flipping spatula. Don’t risk using it to load raw burgers – and then to remove the cooked ones. Either keep two handy or thoroughly clean the one that has touched the raw meat.

  • Don’t use color as a guideline for doneness: "Many believe that meat is done when it turns brown. Color is not an adequate indicator of the thoroughness of cooking. One out of four burgers turn brown before they reach 160 degrees, which is the recommended temperature."
  • Invest in a cooking thermometer and use it: "Most people don’t want to take the temperature of a hamburger because they think it’s too much work. My graduate student is doing a project watching people prepare burgers, and none of them used a thermometer. They say, ‘Oh, it’s ready,’ but a third of the burgers had not reached the proper temperature."
  • Rare steak is OK, but make sure the meat’s surface is seared: "Steak is different than ground beef. With steak, the bacteria is on the surface and on the edges. So if you just sear it, you’re (killing) the bacteria. With ground beef, since it’s all ground and mixed up, what used to be on the surface is now on the inside."
  • Eat charred food in moderation: "Grilled veggies are so yummy and you get some of those burnt parts that taste so good. But eating too much charred food is bad. Some chemicals, eaten in sufficient quantities, can be carcinogenic. That’s still eating it a lot, every day. A little charring on burgers is OK. The buildup will be low and you will naturally remove those toxins."

Internal temperature chart

Ground meat and meat mixtures

  • Beef, pork, veal, lamb – 160 degrees