So You Want To Be A Waiter

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More about steak temperatures and food-borne illnesses

At the blog, “You’re My Shadow Today”, the subject of steak temperatures came up.

http://servernotslave.wordpress.com/2009/11/17/beaten-and-bloody-or-burnt-to-a-crisp/

This was something that the blog “In The Weeds” recently tackled

http://frothygirlz.com/2009/11/03/in-the-weeds-how-to-order-a-steak-and-not-act-like-a-total-tool/

and a topic that I also discussed a couple of months back.

https://teleburst.wordpress.com/2009/06/13/steak-and-meat-temperatures/

One interesting comment was from someone with HIV who always gets steak cooked to well done out of a concern for health. Patients with HIV and AIDS are usually told to avoid “undercooked foods”, including steaks.

I was going to get on my high horse and say that you can safely eat a medium-rare or medium steak without fear of contamination because of the fact that e Coli and other pathogens that might be transmitted through an intact steak (as opposed to punctured or ground meat) are actually killed in the cooking process because they are “surface dwellers” that are aerobic (they need oxygen to survive and reproduce) and are killed when the steak is exposed to heat above 145º (giving an extra 5º as a hedge). This obviously happens when you cook a steak even to rare, although the USDA says that you should cook the internal temperature to at least 145º because they want to be super safe in these litigious times.

However, as it turns out, there’s a bigger reason why an internal temperature of 145º is the absolute safest way to go (which is what I consider the high side of medium). Turns out that it’s not so simple. Why, you might ask.

Turns out that some lower quality steaks are “blade tenderized” (or “needled” or “pinned”). This is akin to pounding a veal scallopini or pricking a flank steak with a fork or a roller to tenderize it. This damages the integrity of the surface and can drive pathogens into the interior of the steak while it indeed tenderizes what might be a tougher cut of meat.

Fortunately, if you go to the major steakhouses, you can be assured that this doesn’t happen. I’m not prepared to say what kind of restaurants that serve steaks might serve these sort of steaks, as you’re seeing lesser expensive steaks in all sorts of casual dining restaurants these days. It’s unlikely that you will find such “adulteration” of cuts like sirloin, t-bones, strips, tenderloins, etc. even in lower end places, but it’s certainly possible that you might find it in tougher cuts like flank steaks. Fortunately, those are the type of steaks that you want to cook longer anyway.

Here’s an article that lays out the issue, and everyone should read it:

http://www.foodpoisonjournal.com/2009/07/articles/food-policy-regulation/more-doubletalk-from-usda-on-e-coli-and-swift-meat-recall/

Now, lest you think that I’m going to be ordering my steaks medium well, you’ve got another think coming. But I don’t have HIV, lupus, or any other immune-compromised issue. Mine is a personal decision. I think I’ve got a better chance of getting sick from cross-contamination (which is independent of internal temperature) than I do from some odd steak having a natural fissure in it that allows pathogens to get beyond the flame or running into a blade-tenderized cut somewhere that just happens to be infected. However, those with health issues or personal health concerns should read the above article and decide for yourself.

And, for those of you who grill steaks at home, you should keep away from those long pointy forks that some use to turn steaks after stabbing them. Most cooks know that it’s bad to puncture a steak because it releases juices, but the more important reason is that it sacrifices the surface integrity of the muscle meat. Even if the fork is squeaky clean, it could drive pathogens into the center of the steak, where, if you don’t cook it to the high end of medium (145º), you could give someone e Coli. So don’t do it. I don’t even own a prong like that anymore.

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