Color of Cooked Ground Beef as It Relates to Doneness

Jul 12, 2017

Endless handling and cooking instructions are listed on products, found in cookbooks and readily available on the internet. One of these food safety practices is to use a thermometer to make sure meat products are fully cooked and safe for consumption. But is using a thermometer truly necessary for the when cooking a product?

A Food and Health Survey published in 2011 stated that half of Americans claim to use a food thermometer to check if their products are fully cooked.  Seventy-four percent of those who food thermometers use the tool to check and make sure meat products are cooked to a safe level. Other categories of food that people used a thermometer to check for doneness were casseroles, frozen foods and egg dishes. Furthermore, around one-third of those surveyed say there is nothing that will encourage them to use a thermometer. The respondents who were willing to use a thermometer said the two main encouragements for them to use thermometers were if they were given one or if the cookbooks and recipes they used called for the use of a thermometer and stated the temperature that the product should reach.

The majority of people who do not use thermometers prefer to use visual indicators to guess if their meat is done. Many people use color as an indicator of doneness. Research from the USDA shows that color change is not reflective of food being safe to eat, and expand on the idea with the fact that 1 in 4 hamburgers turn brown without reaching an internal temperature of 160oF to ensure potentially harmful bacteria have been destroyed. Beef from certain animals may remain a pink color after it has reached the 160oF as indicated by a thermometer. Most fresh meat ranges in pH from 5.3 to 5.7. Meat with a pH level higher than this range will take longer to turn to the traditional grayish color consumers are familiar with. The pink color can be an indicator of the pH level and fat content of the meat. Lower fat patties require a longer cooking time because they have less heat conduction than higher fat alternatives.

The USDA states the only way to accurately measure if a product is fully cooked is by using a food thermometer. Once a beef patty has reached 160oF it is safe to consume, regardless of internal color or juice color. If you are unsure about the reading of the thermometer take the temperature at a second location to ensure the product is done before consuming.


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