“And how would you like your burger — medium, medium-well, or well-done?”
The cooked end of the spectrum is the only option at restaurants in North Carolina, where rare burgers have been banned by state health code since the mid-90s, when an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 from Jack in the Box hamburgers called national attention to the potential dangers of under-cooked ground beef.
Since that time, the requirement that all restaurant burgers be cooked to an internal temperature of 155 degrees Fahrenheit has driven rare and medium rare meat patties underground, AOL Weird News reported Tuesday.
Despite the law, certain establishments will make bloody burgers for special customers, or for those who know the right way to ask.
Steven Elliot, a Raleigh resident, started RareBurger.com, a website dedicated to staking out places that offer undercooked burgers.
“Some restaurants will make a rare burger for you if you’re a regular or if you look hip enough,” Elliot told AOL Weird News.
At other eateries, the waiter might hint that a rare burger is an off-menu possibility, Elliot says.
“They say, ‘We’ll make it as pink as we’re able to,'” he says. “They won’t admit they’re serving a rare burger, but they’ll serve you a rare burger.”
And then there are the restaurants who openly offer a rare or medium-rare burger, telling customers that because their meat is ground in-house, the rule does not apply to their meat.
This myth, which has been widely popularized throughout the state, was recently busted by food editor Kathleen Purvis, who set the record straight in the Charlotte Observer last month.
North Carolina Administrative Code, Section 2600, says nothing about an exception for beef ground on-site, Purvis pointed out.
The section reads, “Ground beef and foods containing ground beef shall be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 155 degrees F (68 degrees C),” and does not go on to mention any exemptions for special types of ground beef.
The same standards do not apply to steak or other whole cuts of meat, since bacteria resides on the surface of these foods and is likely to be killed during cooking. On the other hand, pathogens such as Salmonella and E. coli can get mixed into the middle of a ground beef patty, where they will remain safe from destruction if the meat is not cooked to the proper temperature.
But rare-burger lovers might be in luck, if North Carolina adopts the national Food Code put forth by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Under the code, restaurants are allowed to serve rare hamburgers as long as they are accompanied by a footnote warning consumers that undercooked meat can potentially be dangerous.
The state will decide on whether or not to switch to the Food Code in 2012. In the meantime, Eliot and other extra-juicy ground beef fans (he likes his patties “ready to moo,” he told AOL Weird News) will have to stick to ordering their burgers under the table.