The month of May is designated as Older Americans Month and is a time to celebrate all the contributions that older adults have made to our country. Here at FSIS, we are celebrating Older Americans Month by highlighting food safety for older adults.
Adults 65 and older are at a greater risk for hospitalization and death from infections. As our bodies grow older, there are many changes in our organs and body systems that can make us more susceptible to contracting infections, such as foodborne illness. According to the CDC, the foodborne pathogens with the highest hospitalization rates among older adults are Listeria, E. coliO157:H7 and Salmonella. With weakened immune systems, infections from these pathogens have the potential to be fatal. To avoid contracting a foodborne illness, older adults must be especially careful when handling, preparing and consuming foods.
As part of its ongoing efforts to minimize older adults’ risk for foodborne illness, FSIS is planning to reach out to organizations that serve older adults, such as the National Council on Aging, to provide food safety education information for their members. FSIS has two publications that offer valuable food safety advice for older adults: “Food Safety for Older Adults” and “To Your Health! Food Safety for Seniors.” Since many older adults and caregivers of older adults are active on social media, FSIS will be sharing our new “Baby Boomers and Food Safety” infographic on Twitter and Facebook. Organizations that serve older adults are encouraged to share our messages.
Consumers of all ages can take advantage of our many other food safety resources. The FoodKeeper app is a new application, available for Android and iOS products, that offers storage advice on over 400 food and beverage items. The USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline also has food safety experts available to answer questions Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. ET. Consumers can also submit questions and chat live with food safety experts at AskKaren.gov.
United States Department of Agriculture: Food Safety and Inspection Service
I have had people ask me in the past why supermarket ground beef is red on the outside and brown in the middle. Surprisingly, due to the nature of the pigment in ground beef, that is actually an indication of fresh ground beef – as long as it is bright pink on the outside and about half an inch into the package you see brown spots or brown through the center but pink on the outside. You only need to worry about ground beef if it is brown on the outside. That is an indication that it has been out too long. Ground beef has 3 normal color states – bright red (oxymyoglobin state), dark red-purple – deoxymyoglobin (no oxygen) and a state called met-myoglobin that is brown.
The meat starts out in a state oxymyoglobin (bright red) just after it is ground. When it goes into a package the inside portion isn’t getting oxygen any more, so it turns brown (met-myoglobin) before turning purple red (deoxymyoglobin). It takes about 2-4 hours for the ground beef to turn dark red after it is in the package. It has to go through the brown color before turning to the purple color – if you spread the package out and leave it in air it will re-bloom to bright red in 15 to 20 minutes. If you look carefully the first 1/4 to 1/2 inch; the meat will still be red. Sometimes it is splotchy brown because oxygen is getting to parts of the package but not all the way through. If the meat is old it gets brown on the surface first when it runs out of met-myoglobin reducing capacity. The meat at the surface runs out first and gets stuck in the brown state once the enzyme system runs out of energy.
Basically if the meat is brown on the inside when you open it up, and pink on the outside, the brown meat will turn pink in a short period of time showing that the meat is fresh.
There is good news! Your hamburger doesn’t have to be the expensive hockey puck which happens if you use ground beef that is too lean. Based on my years of experience as a butcher and some insights I got during my Ph.D. research, I have come to the conclusion that ground beef provides the best hamburger eating experience when you start with 80 % lean (20 % fat) ground beef. Anything leaner tends to have the consistency of a hockey puck. The best part is the edible portion of a burger which starts at 80% lean, is fairly close to the fat level of a leaner burger. During cooking, the fat melts out leaving voids in the patty – these voids make a less dense texture and also leave a place for the other juices and aromas of cooking burger to accumulate. Then when you bite into the burger, you get a “blast of taste and aroma” which improves eating satisfaction.
The really lean patty will shrink into a dense, void-less mass that is tough, and has no place for the juices to stay in-so they all evaporate, and the lean patty is dry as well. Finally, since most of the cooking loss in a lean patty is moisture, you have almost as much fat in the patty you eat as one from a fatter starting point. If math isn’t your thing take my word for it: eating a very lean patty doesn’t improve the nutritional value of the edible portion. However, if you want to understand a little of the science behind my hamburgerology, read the paragraph below.
If we start with (2) 100g (about 3.5 oz) patties, one with 80% lean and 20 % fat and the other with 95 % lean and 5 % fat, and we put both of these patties on the grill to cook, we’ll end up with 2 cooked 80g (2.8 oz) cooked patties – cooking loss is about 20g for each patty. The interesting part is that the 95 % patty loses about 19.5g of water and 0.5g of fat, so it ends up with 4.5g of fat in the 80g cooked portion. Therefore, in the cooked portion, there is 4.5/80 = 0.056 or 5.6 % fat in the finished patty – not bad – except it is tough and tasteless. The 80% lean patty loses about 13g of fat and 7g of moisture, leaving 7g of fat in the cooked portion, or 7/80 = 0.875 or 8.75% fat in the final patty. So for just a little more fat, you have a much tastier hamburger !