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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Burger King’s Grill and Undercooked Burger Problem – How Widespread?

I was re-reading the letter local Burger Kings received from the State of Washington:

September 1, 2011

As we discussed, we are deeply concerned about reports relating to undercooking hamburgers at many Burger Kings in our state. Inspection reports from several of our local health jurisdictions show a disturbing trend. Below I have listed some of the findings from these inspections. I will alert them that you would like to have specific information sent to you:

• Undercooked hamburger patties (all sizes)

• The use of a burger final cook temperature
protocol using results from only one regular/Junior patty and only one location on that one patty

• Broiler calibration frequencies that varied from once to four times per day

• Broiler calibration done with only two patties, not a full run

• Workers who did not know how to use a thermocouple

• Workers who did not know how to take final cook temperatures of burgers

• Workers who wrote down the highest temperature versus the lowest temperature

• Workers who did not know that undercooked patties should be discarded

• Finding that most of the undercooking was from the Duke Flamebroiler

• Broiler units that are not easily operated resulting in stacked patties

• Broiler temperatures that drop substantially following a run of frozen chicken Tendergrills

• Broken ceramic tiles inside the broilers that reduce the cook temperatures and allow insulation to fall onto the food

• Variety of maintenance challenges

• Assuming that the brief microwave step will “remedy” any undercooking issues

Because of these violations, inspectors have required corrective actions including:

• More frequent broiler calibration using a full run of patties

• Checking final burger cook temperatures of three patties per size and at five points each

• Calibrating thermocouples daily using the ice bath method

• Doing cook temperature tests of all sizes of patties

• Prohibit stacking patties during final cook temperature testing

• Cooking regular/Junior patties 8 to a run, not 12, and steak house patties 5 not 6 to a run

• Keeping logs of final cook temperatures/ “Cook Out” listing all 5 temperatures from each patty

• Submitting logs daily to the local health jurisdiction

• Giving the PICs access to all calibration adjustment tools/keys and the knowledge to make corrective action

• Requiring final cook temperature logs for burger runs after a run of chicken Tendergrills

• Cooking all patties to 160˚F

• Only letting trained and tested staff work the broilers

• Making sure that all staff know how to use and where to find the thermocouples

• Having more than 1 thermocouple available in each unit and calibrate them as well

We are eager to hear how Burger King will solve these serious food safety concerns. The minimum outcome must be fully cooked foods, trained staff to assure this, and equipment that is reliable and easy to operate.

Our office is more than willing to assist you in this resolution. Please contact me as needed.

Regards,

Larry French, RS

Food Safety Advisor
Office of Environmental Health, Safety & Toxicology Washington State Department of Health

A Burger King spokeswoman responded late Wednesday evening with the following statement.

“Burger King Corp. (BKC) has recently been made aware of the findings from the Washington State Health Department and is investigating the matter to determine whether all proper cooking protocols were followed at the inspected restaurants.

Preliminary findings from the health department indicate some of the restaurants inspected produced variable cooking temperatures that did not meet BKC’s stringent food safety procedures.

These franchise operators are now taking immediate action to ensure that their restaurants are meeting the company’s stringent food preparation procedures, which include cooking hamburger patties to a target temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as, verifying cooking temperatures at least four times a day.

In an abundance of caution, BKC is conducting a retraining session today with franchise operators in Washington State and is requesting restaurant teams be retrained on proper procedures.”

I think the larger question is how widespread is Burger King’s Grill and Undercooked Burger problem?