An interlaboratory study was undertaken to assess the frequency that cooked color of ground beef patties appeared brown at internal temperatures of 52.7°C (135°F), 65.6°C (150°F), 71.1°C (160°F), and 79.4°C (175°F). In general, as internal cooked temperature of the patties increased, the following results were observed in the patties: (i) more brown meat color, (ii) less pink or red juice color, and (iii) more cooked texture. However, brown meat color occurred prematurely at the two lower internal temperatures (57.2°C/135°F and 65.6°C/150°F) that are insufficient to eliminate foodborne pathogens without holding times. The common consumer practice of freezing bulk ground beef, followed by overnight thawing in a refrigerator, led to substantial premature brown color in patties cooked from this product. In addition, at 71.1°C (160°F), recognized to be the lowest temperature for cooking ground beef safely in the home, meat color, juice color, and texture appearance were not fully apparent as doneness indicators. In fact, at no temperature studied did 100% of the patties appear done when evaluated by the criteria of no red or pink in the meat, no red or pink in the juices, or by texture appearance. Patties in this study were evaluated under a set protocol for forming the products, cooking, and viewing under the same lighting conditions. Other preparation conditions are possible and may produce different results. Thus, temperature to which patties have been cooked cannot be judged by color and appearance. This study provided the evidence to support the message to consumers regarding cooking of beef patties of “use an accurate food thermometer and cook beef patties to 160°F (71.1°C)” in place of messages based on consumer judgment of cooked color.
† Present address: Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C.