We don't think of cooking meat in terms of temperature; we know rare, medium-rare, medium, medium-well, and well. So most consumers wouldn't think twice about seeing that message on a package of ground beef. To the discerning eye, the label screams "Don't eat me. I'm not good."
Before last summer, I wouldn't have figured out right away what 160°F meant. But thanks to the fiasco of the medium-rare burger in Alberta last summer, I know that 145°F is medium-rare and 160°F is well.
So cooking beef to 160°F minimum is not about taste or flavor, but only a CYA maneuver (cover … your …).
You wouldn't be surprised to learn that the label comes from Cargill Meat Solutions and the package was sold at Wal-Mart. I discovered this by poking around the new Wal-Mart out of curiosity, not thinking I would see anything quite this distasteful.
In established circles, my view is very much in the minority. The USDA wants you to cook your ground beef to 160°F and use a food thermometer.
"When a hamburger is cooked to 160 °F as measured with a food thermometer, it is both safe and delicious!"
Safe, yes. Delicious? No thanks.
Cooking meat to 160°F is a way of skating around questionable beef processing practices. This doesn't even factor in what the cows are eating or being injected with or any pink slime problems. This is purely based on what may get mixed into the meat in harvesting cows and processing their meat.
But what gets me about "Cook to 160°F minimum" is the last word: minimum. How far does Cargill and Wal-Mart want us to cook this meat? 170°F? 180°F? 212°F is boiling, so that meat would be ideal for a little Cincinnati chili.
What goes past well? Doesn't sound like a good "meat solution."
We go out of our way to say food is safe even when it isn't, but this label on the package of beef says, "I'm not safe. You have to overcook me. Even if you reach the CYA cut from the USDA, this is only the minimum. You should go beyond well if you want to be sure. This is how crappy our food is for you."
We should be thankful that this product has such a prominent warning label. Very colorful and really stands out. The problem is that the vast majority of consumers don't know what the label means and won't take steps, however draconian they may be, to cook the beef to such an extreme temperature.
As a country that prides itself on eating a lot of meat, we should have beef that would make us proud. We should have beef so well processed that it should have warning labels not to cook this meat above 150°F (medium). Now that's beef that would be worth having for dinner.