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On a recent trip to France, I had a burger that was still pink in the middle. I know this is incredibly common in France (and it was delicious!) - but, as I understand it, it would never be allowed in the UK.

I'm aware that common wisdom is that mince needs to be cooked all the way through as any exposed surface area can harbour dangerous bacteria (so almost all of it, in the case of mince/burgers). Do the French take any special precautions when preparing food in this way? Is eating this particularly risky?

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    I get pink burgers in the UK all the time, you just aren't going to the right places. – GdD Jul 24 '17 at 14:14
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    If the place is grinding their own meat (daily), and keeping it cold, I'd trust it way more than American grocery store-ground meat. But then again, I'll eat kitfo. – Joe Jul 24 '17 at 15:09
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    Storage is everything - good beef can be eaten raw. – Maciej Piechotka Jul 24 '17 at 20:47
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    From a good butcher, ground/minced meat can be some of the best cuts they have, but you must know the butcher. Mega market meat in the US is typically low end meat that was ground days in advanced or at chain places often ground and shipped. None of those options would I sere under 160, which means I don't make burgers from it ever. But butchers will save trimmings to grind, tails from steaks, edges from rib roast and so forth and add enough chuck or sirloin as needed to fill out. That is good stuff they eat themselves and if fine at a good mid rare. – dlb Jul 25 '17 at 2:58
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    Comment from Germany: we distinguish minced meat meant for raw consumption (tartare en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steak_tartare, Mett en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mett) which is prepared and shipped according to particularly strict food safety regulations from meat that must be cooked. You may consider Mettbrötchen to be a variety of raw burger. In addition, people working in food preparation need to have a food safety certificate that includes knowledge of food hygiene. Part (if not all) these rules are the same for the whole EU, so I'd expect the situation in France to be silimar. – cbeleites supports Monica Jul 25 '17 at 11:07

12 Answers 12

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Applying USDA standards (which may or may not be the 'same' as elsewhere, but (IMHO) serve as a reasonable standard for "Safe") Hamburger must be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F [71°C] in order to be 'Guaranteed Safe', which is typically defined as 'well done'.

On the other hand hamburger may be perfectly safe at medium rare to rare (120°F - 49°C) depending on how the beef was raised and processed. Actual cases of serious food borne illness from even raw meat are fairly rare (or should I say uncommon? ;) ). As far as I can tell the French are doing nothing 'special' to neither decrease nor increase the risks involved.

Many restaurants (in the US) will specify on their menu some thing like:

All burgers cooked med-well unless otherwise requested

Pink vs. Brown

A variety of circumstances from acid levels in the meat to the application of dyes may cause meat to appear 'pink' but be perfectly safe, ground beef may also appear to be brown, but may not be safe at all. Pink is not necessarily a good standard.

Since you are unlikely to get an 'accurate reading' carrying your own food thermometer with you where ever you may go (if your food sits on the counter for a while before getting served the temp by the time it gets to you will be less), the best test to apply in a restaurant is 'cooked' vs. 'raw'

A quick Google search "Hamburger Rare vs. Raw" will display a myriad of images from which you may discern what you are comfortable with.

By 'serious' food borne illness I am referring to things which might require a doctors care or put your life in jeopardy. While lower-grade illness maybe 'unpleasant' they are not necessarily 'unsafe'


"As far as I can tell" denotes the inability to prove a negative. Having looked through the Anses website, particularly their section on 'nutrivigilence' and 'animal nutrition and welfare' looking for any exceptional methods (radiation treatment, quarantines, chemical therapies etc) that might have the goal (even if not the effect) of making the beef supply more safe...I found nothing to cause me to believe that they are actually doing anything exceptional (over and above US or EU standards)

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    Your conclusions might still be correct, but I'm not wild about using things like "Actual cases of food born illness from even raw meat are fairly rare" as evidence. Very few people eat raw meat, and most don't even eat rare burgers, so we wouldn't expect many cases of foodborne illness even if there is a decent risk. – Cascabel Jul 24 '17 at 22:01
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    @CosCallis Perhaps you shouldn't be answering a food safety question then? ... – user25798 Jul 25 '17 at 14:27
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    @CosCallis It is if you want to argue that rare hamburgers are safe because of the low chance of getting food poisoning from them. Even if that were true, which I strongly doubt given a complete lack of sources, you're basically adjusting your definition of safe. "As far as I can tell" you didn't do the required research to be answering this question. Have you even considered how different rules and regulations covering food supply chains could be affecting the safety of raw meat? I'd say this answer is rather callous when you consider the very severe risks involved with foodborne illness. – user25798 Jul 25 '17 at 15:03
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    I guess that would depend on the OP's definition of safe... Is skydiving safe? absolutely. Is skydiving 'free of risk'? No. My answer addressed the notion that pink = unsafe, as implied by the phrasing of the question, that a 'better standard for safe' would be 'is it not raw' (others here have shared an opinion that raw is even 'safe', still others disagree). If you consider the risk of foodborne illness to be 'severe' I'm guessing you are in the 'always 160°F camp'; still I leave it others to decide what level or risk they are willing to take with their hamburger. – Cos Callis Jul 25 '17 at 15:18
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    Good answer, but as far as I know food-borne diseases from raw meat are incredibly common: Most people eating meat will get them several times a year. It’s just that they usually manifest in stomach ache or other harmless, if bothersome, GI problems. Had diarrhoea? You can almost certainly blame the cleanliness of the food you had before (not necessarily meat, of course). – Konrad Rudolph Jul 26 '17 at 10:16
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Depends on the meat-grinding process. Is it some large production facility where scraps and sub-standard meat portions are thrown into a vat and ground up, with a lot of opportunity for contamination (eventually being sold in large plastic tubes as cheap frozen ground beef)? Lots of danger there.

Your local butcher shop, done by hand on equipment that is cleaned every day or even between batches? Or done on demand? Much less risk there.

The main worry and danger of ground beef is the fact that usually, with a cut of meat, the outer surface might be at risk for some bacterial contamination. As you get a lot of cuts/scraps, that's a lot of "surface area," which then gets ground and mixed, as opposed to a solid slab of beef, where the vast majority of the interior of the meat isn't exposed.

So, if I take a big chunk of chuck roast, cut it into smaller chunks and immediately grind it, myself, in my kitchen, the bacterial risk isn't going to be that much different than that of the chuck roast, itself, if my equipment is cleaned using appropriate methods for keeping kitchen equipment bacteria-free.

By the way, if your burger is pink in the middle, that's probably medium, not rare.

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    @JimmyJames - my mom used to make the people at the meat counter crazy. She liked to use stew beef for burgers, so she'd have them grind half a pound (to clear out whatever was still in the grinder), would look at it, say "I don't want that," then have them grind whatever amount she wanted to buy. Not exactly "cleaning," but she was more concerned about the quality than safety, per say. – PoloHoleSet Jul 25 '17 at 14:21
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    Your ability to decipher mostly incoherent comments is noted. Must drink more coffee... – JimmyJames Jul 25 '17 at 14:32
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    "So, if I take a big chunk of chuck roast, cut it into smaller chunks and immediately grind it, myself, in my kitchen, the bacterial risk isn't going to be that much different than that of the chuck roast, itself..." is incorrect. The important difference is where the bacteria are. In a chunk roast the bacteria are on the surface where they are most rapidly killed during cooking. Once the beef is ground they are distributed through the meat where they are more protected from cooking. It is this redistribution that is important not the number of bacteria. – Jack Aidley Jul 26 '17 at 9:17
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    @Megha - It is certainly possible to get poisoned by toxins produced by bacteria that cannot be removed by cooking. However, it is also possible to get infected by bacteria on the food itself; and it's this later kind of infection that is the bigger risk from raw meat and it can be removed by cooking. With ground beef the bacteria have been spread through the meat so it needs to be cooked all the way through in order to kill them whereas with a chunk of beef the bacteria are nearly all on the surface so can be killed more easily. – Jack Aidley Jul 27 '17 at 7:59
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    @JackAidley Redistribution is not the most important factor. The single most important factor is the length of time the food has been sitting at a temperature favorable for bacterial growth. The quantity of bacteria present is directly dependent on that time. – barbecue Jul 27 '17 at 21:33
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Are you asking if it is safe for you to prepare it this way, or whether it is safe to have it at a restaurant?

Here's a useful guideline for restaurants, as a complement to other answers:

Is this way of cooking common and accepted in that region? Is it how the chef and the waiter would prefer that burger? In France, the answer is yes. In many places you would explicitly need to ask for it to be well done, otherwise they assume you want it rare. Steak tartare is popular too.

Since rare burgers are so popular in France, the appropriate safety procedures and regulations are in place for the whole production chain, and people know how to prepare such dishes in a safe manner. A mistake would immediately affect many customers and would make the news.

In a country where such dishes are not common or traditional, I would be much more cautious. For example, in China even things you might take for granted, such as a glass of cold water or raw vegetables may be unsafe (depending on the place), because the locals never eat such things (they will boil the water and cook the vegetables). The chance of accidental mishandling is much higher.

8

If you're at a nicer restaurant - or nowadays even a midlevel restaurant, perhaps - you may be eating food that was cooked sous-vide. Sous-vide is helpful not only for letting the restaurant pre-prepare food without a loss of quality, but it allows substantially more rare preparation with no additional risk of foodborne illness.

While a 160°F/71°C hamburger is the FDA requirement for a quick-cooked burger, if you cook for an hour or so you can cook it to 145°F (medium), and two hours for 130°F(rare), and still have the same anti-bacterial effect as cooking to 160°F for a few seconds.

You can read more about sous-vide burgers at the Food Lab's page.

Beyond that, I suspect you simply are seeing a cultural difference. The French tend to choose better-tasting food even if there is a small risk of foodborne illness.

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    or rather the French know how to store, prepare, and serve food safely that in many other places would not be safe... Or they're more pragmatic and consider the one in a hundred million chance of something being bad to be acceptable when the overlawyered US culture regulates against it. – jwenting Jul 26 '17 at 7:44
  • If you look at data France have less death by foodborne illness than USA. : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – Gyncoca Jul 27 '17 at 9:19
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    I suspect that's partially based on the small time period of those numbers (. Over four times as many people were hospitalized in France(per 100k); fewer died but not by much (note those stats are not exactly identical, as French statistics only included the major sources of infection and the cases that had a known vector, and so could be much higher compared to the US stats which included all known or unknown vectors). – Joe M Jul 27 '17 at 11:09
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    And for the specific known vectors that were listed in both, France was higher in each - three times as many deaths from salmonella per 100k, half again as many from listeria. I don't know why e. coli was not listed, unless I'm wrong that it is a higher cause of death at least in the US. – Joe M Jul 27 '17 at 11:11
  • Never heard of pasteurization being applied to meat before, very interesting. I wonder about "cooler" slow cookers now too. They quote: beef can be safely pasteurized at temperatures as low as 130°F if held for long enough. At 130°F, it takes 2 hours to safely pasteurize beef, while at 140°F, it takes only 12 minutes. Remember—these timeframes begin once the center of the burger reaches pasteurization temperature, so it's a good idea to add an extra half hour to those times for any burger you plan on pasteurizing. Pasteurization cannot safely take place lower than 130°F... – Xen2050 Jul 27 '17 at 20:06
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"The FSA has now created and published a list of establishments approved to supply minced meat and meat preparations (rare burgers) intended to be eaten less than thoroughly cooked. "

From March 2017 The Food Standards Agency has introduced a specific requirement for establishments supplying minced meat (MM) and/or meat preparations (MP) intended to be eaten less than thoroughly cooked (LTTC) to be approved by either the FSA or their Local Authority. Specific approval of this activity is seen to be an important step in delivering a high level of public protection. The continued upkeep and publication of a definitive list of establishments approved for this activity will assist FBOs at catering establishments to identify approved producers of MM/MP which are suitable for use in the production of burgers intended to be LTTC.

Source: https://www.food.gov.uk/enforcement/sectorrules/meatplantsprems/approvedmeatplants

  • There was also achange similar to this a couple of years ago. I'm not sure whether it was to a lower standard than this (although higher than before), or whether it was regional (maybe just London local authorities), but various restaurants at the time started refusing to serve rare burgers. So this is the right answer but maybe needs more expansion. To directly answer the question at the end: most of the French quite possibly don't take any more precautions in preparation than most of the British, it's just that the Brits have recently banned those who don't from selling rare burgers. – Steve Jessop Jul 26 '17 at 13:25
  • For FSAs viewpoint you may be interests in: from May 2016 food.gov.uk/business-industry/guidancenotes/meatregsguid/… and from February 2017 thecaterer.com/articles/497150/… – user20637 Jul 27 '17 at 11:42
  • While OP asks if the 'French do anything special...?" No, but the Brits are at least trying. – Cos Callis Jul 28 '17 at 14:44
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As a French resident, I've always eaten rare or even raw meat, I'm 23 y.o. and still alive ;) If you are concerned about the quality of the meat served in restaurants, here are some things you should know:

  • From the animal to the steak, your meat will have had to respect a lot of regulations. That has resulted in France having only a few cases of E. coli bacteria infections that were actually due to bad conservation of the meat that was the responsibility of the supermarket stores that sold this infected meat. It resulted in the biggest meat scandal in France since the Mad Cow disease in the late 90s.

  • Except for pre-cooked meals containing meat that are allowed to be made from gross parts of the "meat" (very greasy parts, drops of meat when cutting the steaks etc.), every piece of meat you can eat in a restaurant or buy in a store is processed according to the same regulations so it's safe to eat rare steak even if it's minced as it is with beef carpaccio.

  • Be only careful if you go to fast food restaurants, where they are allowed to serve defrosted meat. In fast food outlets always be sure that your meat is well cooked or else ... you're likely to suffer a bad case of diarrhea.

3

In France??? Undercooked meat?!

How about Steak Tartare which, in France and other countries, is made with the same raw, uncooked ground or Laguiole-cut beef or horse meat used for hamburgers and is perfectly safe to eat due to the rigorous veterinary control in the French slaughterhouses: every single animal gets checked for parasites and diseases and removed from the food chain if infected.

Furthermore, in professional kitchens there is no difference between handling raw meat for Steak Tartare and ground beef for hamburgers: all meat is kept in a special meat fridge, the "hot isle" and the "cold isle" have to be separated by the "work isle" with minimum distances from one another, yellow sponges are for utensils, blue sponges are for floors, red ones for toilets, ... The law in France is quite stringent about hygiene...

Nowadays it is still advised for pregnant women not to eat raw meat due to some bacteria, but if you're in perfectly healthy condition, there is no risk whatsoever.

And as you're from the UK: Mr Bean - Steak Tartare :-)

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    Steak tartare is not ground meat. They are not the same thing. – Catija Jul 24 '17 at 21:08
  • @Catija Have you even read the article? Ping me in chat after you did – Fabby Jul 24 '17 at 21:12
  • It's irrelevant. If your entire answer relies on a link to another site, then it's not an answer by definition. Please improve your answer and include the relevant content of the link here in a quote box. Links die or get changed. Link only answers are insufficient. Please see: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/225370/… – Catija Jul 24 '17 at 21:15
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    @Fabby Please don't give people a hard time for asking you to write full answers. Your original answer indeed was link-only, and Catija was doing you a service by asking you to elaborate rather than just flagging it. It's clearly much improved by your edits - though it's still not entirely clear if the meat used for steak tartare is the same quality as the meat in hamburgers! – Cascabel Jul 25 '17 at 3:41
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    OK, making too many assumptions, as I've lived in France, it's obvious to me that it's the same meat and that everyone knows what Steak Tartare is... There is no "Steak tartare ground beef" and "hamburger ground beef"... there's just "ground beef" and a different preparation method. Answer updated. @Jefromi – Fabby Jul 25 '17 at 19:54
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The only time it can be considered safe to eat undercooked minced meat, is if you minced it yourself (and treated the meat properly prior, of course), or if you trust the establishment in question to have done the same thing.

E.coli, which is often considered the most prominent risk factor in minced meats, at least in Europe, stems from the bowel of sheep and bovines. Transfer of e.coli to meat typically happens during slaughter. For this reason, steaks are fine to eat medium or even rare, since the entire area of possible contamination is heated. Minced meat however carries the risk of having mixed any bacteria originally sat on the surface area of the meat into the middle of the patty.

E.coli infections don't happen very often, and even those who eat infected meat don't always catch the bacteria themselves, but due to wild strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria and the potential severity of certain types of e.coli infections, it is always advisable to ensure that the meat has been heated up to a core temperature exceeding 165F.

  • Do you have a reference at least for what "proper treatment" of meat is that would be safe even if you minced it yourself? What exactly is it we'd have to trust a restaurant to do? – Caleb Jul 26 '17 at 20:23
  • @Caleb, for home preparation, it starts with what meat you buy. If you buy a cut that is contaminated, nothing in an ordinary kitchen will kill those bacteria (except heat treatment). So assuming that you've done your homework and bought from a good shop, proper treatment is basically vigilance with kitchen etiquette - store the meat as cold as possible as soon as possible, keep a clean place of work, don't "mix" tools between ingredients, etc. As for the restaurant, you'd be trusting them to do these things - origin of the meat and storage would be the biggest points imo. – Vegard Jul 27 '17 at 0:33
  • Thanks, but please edit that info into your answer. That will make it far more useful and correct than its current form. – Caleb Jul 27 '17 at 5:06
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Eating that is not just risky due to bacteria. Since bacteria is not the only thing bad thing found in undercooked meat, you can get Toxoplasmosis parasite infections from undercooked beef too.

If you have any health conditions where a parasite infection would be unsafe for you, then eating such things would be highly risky and not recommended.

That pink burger patty might have been totally raw in the center. If your burger was a tartare aller retour... yeah it's basically raw beef.

  • Any idea of how common that is from beef? – PoloHoleSet Jul 24 '17 at 21:04
  • This does not really answer the question that was asked ... it's a comment on related matters but not an answer. – Caleb Jul 26 '17 at 20:19
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    I'm a little confused how this is only "related matters" or doesn't answer the question. Mentioning a specific risk of eating undercooked beef (i.e. a reason it's not safe) seems like an answer? – Cascabel Jul 27 '17 at 15:47
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In the UK it is possible to get burgers rare. Davy's wine bar appealed Westminster councils ban on serving rare meat and won in 2013. From memory it does however require the meat to be traceable back to the supplier and minced on the day (There is a really good pdf on the requirements somewhere but I can't find it).

This does mean that if you're selling burgers rare you'd better be prepared for a bit of a fight with council inspection teams.

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Here in Canada sounds a lot like the UK: We cook our hamburger until well done, all the way through. Most restaurants are also held to that standard for food safety reasons.

However, in the United States you can get medium or even rare burgers much more frequently.

This is because of the food safety guidelines in the country. Not just for the people cooking the meat, but for the factories producing the meat. If guidelines are stricter on the production of ground beef then the risk of cooking to medium is reduced as well.

There are restaurants in Canada that grind their own beef, and are therefore able to serve it however they wish. Or serve beef tartare which is raw, and do so safely.

So, in order to make it a safe option either the food regulations in France or the restaurants practices themselves make them feel safe serving it.

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    This does not answer the questions. Do the French take any special precautions when preparing food in this way? Is eating this particularly risky? – Jan Doggen Jul 25 '17 at 9:09
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I don't know what your specific safety concern is, but the WHO (World Health Organization) was in the track of various health problems related to dietary patterns before the 70's. Of course, there is an ongoing struggle with the industry.

This has gotten to the point that the WHO declared meat a carcinogen type I in 2015. It is not that it produces cancer, meat promotes it. Which is quite different. You can check their Q&A here for more info.

Notwithstanding the fact that meat, white bread, free fats, fried potatoes and most burger ingredients are linked to more than one health concern.

There's more publicly available (and amicable) research on cancer.org (HCAs, etc.) and other reputable sources, but I can't publish more links due to my status as a new user.

So, no. I wouldn't call it safe, just edible for those who feel so inclined.

  • I think the point of the question was "raw", not whether burgers are safe in general. – Robert Jul 28 '17 at 0:12
  • I believe I'm providing adequate information even on that specific topic. Did you check the Q&A or the whole study?. To quote a bit: "Processed meat refers to meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavour or improve preservation." . Thanks, @Robert – Mario G. Jul 28 '17 at 0:56
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    @MarioG. Welcome and thank for presenting an interest bit of information. However, your answer does not address the question presented as it does not distinguish between varying degrees of finish on the meat. OP possess a question about 'rare' (vs. well or at least 'less rare') mince (ground beef). Your studies make no such distinction. Hamburger is no more or less 'dangerous' (according to the studies you presented) based on how well it is prepared. – Cos Callis Jul 28 '17 at 1:17

protected by Community Jul 28 '17 at 15:07

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