By: Natalee Baker, Joy Kim, Karmine Malhi, & Maeve McCaffery
A summer barbecue smell filled the room as we grilled our hamburgers on an early Tuesday morning. In the midst of the smoky air, the students gathered around Dr. Joe Eifert who, through detailed slides and offhand jokes, explained the importance of food preparation and safety.
On July 11, 2017, the GSA food science major congregated in the food science and technology laboratory to conduct a lab involving the measurement of temperatures of meat in different states. Half of the class used electrical grills while the other half gathered outside to cook with traditional charcoal grills. Each group received a data sheet and an assortment of temperature-measuring tools including infrared, probe, and color-changing thermometers. Once the grills were up and running, Dr. Eifert passed around a variety of burger to the class to analyze how differing meats and states affected cooking times. The meats provided were thawed beef, frozen beef, thawed turkey, and frozen turkey.
Students used the smaller electrical George Foreman grill which only allowed for one burger to cook at a time. As Dr. Eifert said, “it might be silly for four people to stare at one burger for awhile so make the most of it!” The conventional charcoal grills, even smaller in size, took a bit longer to cook to the same temperature but worked to the same functions.
Before coming into this program, most students had absolutely no idea that the recommended burger cooking temperature was 160 degrees Fahrenheit. That temperature is recommended to kill the foodborne-illness causing bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella that survive until that point. Cooking meats at 160 degrees Fahrenheit means that the bacteria has been exterminated and you are left with a beautiful, healthy, brown meat.
Our data sheets revealed the expected disparities in the differing types and states of meat. The average amount of time it took to cook a frozen patty was about two minutes more than a thawed one. The contrasting compositions of red and lean meats also led to their differing cooking times.
The day earlier, a confusing Monday of class changes, Dr. Eifert gave a relaxed but shocking lesson about disease in poorly cooked meat. In 1993, a strain of bacteria that is usually harmless, E. coli O157:H7, was found in the Jack in the Box burger meat. This particular strain of E. coli is deadly to humans, causing the death of four children and around 140 people were hospitalized. This meat was contaminated before reaching the restaurant, but the failure of Jack in the Box to cook their meat to 160 degrees was ultimately what caused the casualties. If the meat had been cooked to the recommended temperature, the harmful bacteria would have been killed.
In light of these horrifying food scandals, the most impactful take away our major had was to be precise in cooking our foods– if the thermometer isn’t hot, your cooking will be for naught!
For more incite on the Jack in the Box meat scandal, click the link to watch this video!