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Why It’s Ok to Eat Steak Rare, But Not Hamburger

Published date: January 23, 2024 | Modified date:
by Dr Stephen Wangen


Have you ever wondered why you can eat steak rare, but not hamburger?  It’s actually very interesting and very logical, and I’ll explain why next.  As we all know, some people like to eat their steak rare, and restaurants are happy to provide it this way, but no restaurant is going to give you a rare hamburger. Why is that?

Of course, cooking food kills bacteria, but why can we eat some food uncooked?

Bacteria exist on surfaces, such as on the skin. They also exist in the intestinal tract. This is as true for cows as it is for humans. And when it comes to eating meat, what we don’t want to eat is the bacteria that was on or in that cow.

(By the way, I am not advocating that you eat meat, or implying that it will help you with your digestive problems. That’s a completely separate issue.)

When a cow is butchered, you get very large sections that contain various parts of the cow, such as the flank, brisket, chuck, sirloin, etc. Those sections are then further cut down into individual cuts of steak.

And where are the bacteria?  If there is any, it’s on the surface of the steak, and it got there during the butchering process. There are no bacteria inherently in those cuts of meat. It’s not inside the steak.

Cooking Steak vs HamburgerSo, when a steak is prepared rare, it’s always seared on the surface. And that will generally kill any bacteria on that piece of meat. (Although it isn’t a guarantee, and there is always some risk with eating raw food.)

But hamburger is not a solid piece of meat. Hamburger is ground meat. And what was once the surface of the meat is now not on the surface, but throughout the hamburger, including inside the hamburger. So, the bacteria, if there were any on the surface, are also now on the inside of hamburger.

And that is why hamburger should be thoroughly cooked all the way through before eating. And why people can get sick if hamburger is not properly cooked. But the they generally don’t get sick from eating rare steak.

I hope that you found that interesting and educational. And I’d love to hear about your experiences with cooked vs uncooked foods in the comments below.

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