Salmonella from Raw Meat Alert

Last Editorial Review: 2/2/2004

Comments: Last summer when many people were enjoying hamburgers cooked outdoors on the grill, there was a lot of discussion about the dangers of acquiring a salmonella infection from eating underdone beef. Everyone was encouraged to ask that their burgers be well done. Then as the winter season approached, attention began to be focused more on other health threats such as the flu.

But the specter of salmonella hasn't gone away. Since last fall, at least 37 people in 6 states (New York and New England) have become ill with salmonella and the USDA believes that eating raw or undercooked ground beef may be the cause. We all are again reminded not to eat raw ground beef. This would seem to rule out steak tartar, even on a fancy restaurant menu.

Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D.
Frederick Hecht, M.D.
Medical Editors,

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FSIS Issues Alert On The Importance Of Cooking And Handling Ground Beef

WASHINGTON, Jan. 29, 2004 - The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service is issuing a public health alert to remind consumers of the importance of following food safety guidelines when handling and preparing raw meat.

FSIS has been informed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of an outbreak investigation involving 37 illnesses of Salmonella Typhimurium in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont.

Many of the people who have become ill have reported eating ground beef. Some reported eating raw ground beef. FSIS is working with the CDC to determine the source of the contamination.

Food contaminated with Salmonella can cause salmonellosis, one of the most common bacterial foodborne illnesses. Salmonella infections can be life-threatening, especially for infants, the frail or elderly and persons with chronic disease, with HIV infection, or taking chemotherapy. The most common manifestations of salmonellosis are diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever within eight to 72 hours. Additional symptoms may be chills, headache, nausea and vomiting that can last up to seven days. Anyone concerned about an illness should contact a physician.

In an effort to reduce incidences of foodborne illness, USDA works to educate consumers on the importance of following food safety guidelines. As a liaison to the Partnership for Food Safety Education, USDA is involved in the Fight BAC!™ campaign. The goal of this campaign is to educate consumers on the following four easy steps that they can take to decrease the risk of foodborne illness:

  • Cook - Cook to a safe internal temperature. Ground beef should be heated to 160 °F.
  • Separate - Separate raw and cooked/ready-to-eat food to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Clean - Clean your thermometer after using it. Be sure there are plenty of clean utensils and platters on hand. Wash your hands often.
  • Chill - At home, store leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer within 2 hours of taking food off the grill. On hot days above 90 °F refrigerate or freeze within 1 hour. Make sure the temperature in your refrigerator is 40 °F or below and 0 °F or below in the freezer. Check the temperature occasionally with a refrigerator/freezer thermometer.

Because color is not a reliable indication that meat and poultry products are thoroughly cooked, a food thermometer is the only way to tell if food has reached a high enough temperature to destroy bacteria. USDA recommends using a food thermometer to ensure that hamburgers made of ground beef are cooked to an internal temperature of 160 °F; ground poultry to 165 °F. Roasts, steaks, and chops of beef, veal, or lamb should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 °F for medium rare and 160 °F for medium. Fresh pork should reach 160 °F. Whole poultry should reach 180 °F, as measured in the thigh.

Consumers with food safety questions can phone the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHOTLINE. The hotline is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Eastern Time), Monday through Friday. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day.

Source: Food Safety and Inspection Service News Alert, January 29, 2004 (


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