Lab experts advise on burger cooking

The Associated Press
Friday November 03, 2000


fLIVERMORE — New research shows that turning hamburger patties once every minute cuts down on the formation of cancer-causing agents while ensuring the demise of harmful bacteria like E. coli. 

The burger findings, published this week in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, were the result of work by researchers at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory – where scientists design and develop nuclear weapons. 

“It is the well-done meat that is the problem, but yet the general public is always hearing that you need to cook foods enough to kill bacteria,” said Lawrence Livermore researcher Mark Knize. 

It is a gentle balance between overcooked and just right, Knize said. Meat has to be cooked through to make sure harmful bacteria are killed, but not so well done that cancer-causing chemicals are produced. 

The lab’s food mutagen team found that optimal temperature for burger cooking is 320 degrees, combined with constant aerodynamic flipping techniques, of course, to kill off harmful germs while minimizing the formation of cancer-causing chemicals. 

Hundreds of chemicals are created when meat is cooked. Some chemicals create the smells and tastes that have made hamburgers a dietary staple for many Americans.  

But cancer-causing chemicals called heterocyclic amines also are produced that can be harmful when consumed. 

Other studies by food toxicologists have determined that as much as 30 percent of known cancers may be related to foods we consume. 

The researchers experimented with various pan temperatures and concurred that any cooking heat above 320 degrees is a wasted effort.  

Eight to nine minutes under those conditions should result in the best burger, the lab’s research found, but flipping is the key. 

“We found if you flip every minute you get a reduction (in carcinogens) in all those temperatures that we tested,” said Cynthia Salmon, a member of the research team that worked on the not-so-top-secret burger project for more than a year. 

It’s not the first time the mutagen team has dabbled in the science of the barbecue pit.  

In previous research, the team published advice on avoiding cancer-causing chemicals by marinating chicken.