Don't Trust Your
Eyes - Use A Thermometer
On That Hamburger
By Julie Vorman

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Just because a home-cooked hamburger looks brown is no guarantee it is safe to eat and home cooks should use digital meat thermometers to ensure ground beef has been cooked to at least 160 degrees Farenheit , the U.S. Agriculture Department said Tuesday.
``I have one and it's fairly easy to use,'' said Tom Billy, administrator of the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service. ''It's the right thing to do to protect your family.'' Hamburgers are behind a large number of cases of E. coli 0157:H7, an especially virulent type of bacteria that lives in the intestinal tract of healthy animals. The bacteria, which can cause bloody diarrhea and kidney failure in humans, was blamed in the 1993 U.S. West Coast fast food restaurant outbreak that killed four children and sickened 700 others. Most major fast-food chains have since bought equipment that automatically cooks food to a safe temperature. USDA is launching a campaign to persuade home cooks to stop guessing when a burger is safely cooked and use a thermometer. Fewer than half of American households own and use a meat thermometer, according to researchers.
In a recent study of nearly 500 four-ounce home-cooked hamburgers, USDA scientists found that some patties turn brown well before reaching the 160 degree mark. Others may appear brown in artificial light but pink in natural daylight, the researchers found. And whether ground beef is fresh or frozen can also affect its color during cooking. ``Most outbreaks are occurring from ground beef prepared in the home,'' said Dr. Penny Adcock, an epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The CDC recently doubled its estimate of the number of E. coli 0157:H7 cases to between 20,000 and 40,000 each year.