Eating pink ground beef is a controversial topic. While some people do it without issue, there are potential health risks that come with undercooked ground beef. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference and risk tolerance.
Is it safe to eat pink ground beef?
Ground beef is generally considered safe to eat when cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F. At this temperature, any harmful bacteria that may have been present is killed. When ground beef is pink, it means it has only been cooked to around 145°F-150°F internally. At this temperature, bacteria like E. coli and salmonella may still be alive.
However, it’s not a guarantee you’ll get sick from eating pink ground beef. Factors like the quality of the meat, how it was handled, and your own immune system play a role. Plenty of people eat pink ground beef and never have issues. But there is an increased risk of foodborne illness compared to thoroughly cooked beef.
Why does ground beef turn pink when undercooked?
The pink color in undercooked beef comes from a protein called myoglobin. When ground beef is freshly cut, myoglobin proteins are bright red. As meat cooks, the proteins denature and turn tan or brown. At medium rare temperatures, around 145°F, they denature partially, resulting in a pinkish hue.
Whole cuts like steak can safely be eaten at this pink stage. But with ground beef, since the meat is blended together, any bacteria present could be mixed throughout. This increases the risk of undercooked pockets versus a whole steak.
Tips for cooking ground beef safely
If you want to eliminate any risks from eating pink ground beef, follow these tips for cooking it thoroughly to 160°F:
- Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature in several spots.
- Break up the meat frequently as it cooks using a spatula to expose all parts to heat.
- Cook on medium or medium high heat rather than high heat which can brown the outside before the inside cooks through.
- Let the cooked beef rest for a few minutes, as the temperature will continue rising slightly.
Who should avoid eating pink ground beef?
While healthy adults are unlikely to become severely ill if they eat pink ground beef, there are some groups who are at higher risk for complications:
- Young children
- Older adults
- Pregnant women
- People with compromised immune systems
These populations are more susceptible to severe illness from foodborne pathogens like E. coli or salmonella. They should avoid pink ground beef whenever possible.
Is pink ground beef ever acceptable to eat?
There are a few instances where pink ground beef is considered safe for most people to eat:
- Freshly ground beef: If beef is freshly ground right before cooking, there is less time for bacteria to multiply so undercooking carries lower risk.
- High quality beef: If beef comes from cows with a healthy, high quality diet, they will have lower counts of dangerous E. coli in their gut.
- Immediately seared: Searing the exterior can kill surface bacteria. As long as the inside isn’t left undercooked for long, this can reduce risk of illness.
However, since it’s impossible to guarantee meat meets all these criteria, experts generally advise against eating pink ground beef whenever possible.
At the end of the day, eating pink ground beef comes with some level of risk. The safest practice is to cook all ground beef to 160°F as measured by a food thermometer. However, the level of risk depends on many factors, and plenty of people eat pink ground beef with no issues.
While healthy adults are less likely to become seriously ill if they eat undercooked beef, those at higher risk like children, pregnant women, and elderly should avoid it. If choosing to eat pink ground beef, make sure it’s of high quality and freshness to minimize risk.