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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

The King can do wrong – Serving Undercooked Burgers is a Bad Idea Burger King

Burger jpgBrandi Kruse from KIRO News Radio beaks a big story – “Burger King has ‘disturbing trend’ of serving undercooked meat”  According to Kruse:

Improper cooking techniques have resulted in “dangerously undercooked” hamburger patties being served at Burger King restaurants across Washington state, and health officials are concerned the problem could be happening in franchises nationwide.

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department first reported the problem on July 29 after a routine health inspection resulted in a “potentially hazardous” violation at a Burger King in Puyallup. The inspector expressed concern to her supervisors that the undercooked meat was due to a glitch with equipment, and the incident might not be isolated.

“So we went ahead and proactively inspected all 13 of their outlets in Pierce County,” said Dr. Anthony Chen, Director of Health for the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. The inspector was right; roughly half of Pierce County locations were serving undercooked meat.

“We spoke to the Department of Health and turned it over to them,” Chen said.

After discovering similar violations across at least 10 counties statewide, the State Health Department sent Burger King a letter on September 1, with their findings.

“We are deeply concerned about reports relating to undercooking hamburgers at many Burger Kings in our state,” read the letter, obtained by KIRO Radio.

“Inspection reports from several of our local health jurisdictions show a disturbing trend.”

Among the potential dangers detailed in the letter was a concern with the “Duke Flamebroiler,” the piece of equipment that is meant to give Burger King hamburgers their signature flame broil. Products coming off the broiler were sometimes undercooked as “broken ceramic tiles” inside the units reduced the cook temperatures and allowed insulation to fall onto the food.

There were also several concerns with employee error. For instance, employees “did not know how to take final cook temperatures of burgers.” Some workers “did not know that undercooked patties should be discarded,” and believed a brief microwave step would “remedy” any issues with undercooking.

I raised the specter of Jack in the Box II:

“What Burger King doesn’t want to see happen is another Jack in the Box case and that certainly could happen,” said Bill Marler, a Seattle food safety attorney who handled some of the high-profile cases related to the Jack in the Box outbreak. “It’s likely that if there is an ongoing problem with these grills, it’s not just in one restaurant or in a handful of restaurants. It may be in literally dozens or hundreds of these restaurants. If they’re not doing something about it and you’ve got an outbreak that occurs, I wouldn’t want to be Burger King.”

“Just undercooking things by 10 degrees can cause a significant public health concern. It could allow E. coli or salmonella to remain in the hamburger,” he said. “A child might be ingesting literally hundreds of these bacteria. It’s the reason why cook temps are 160 degrees for hamburgers; slight variations in temperature can mean the difference between life and death.”



  • Spencer Pierce

    I have been doing food safety inspections as a regulator for over 25 years. Undercooking hamburgers at Burger King is something I have observed over that entire time period. The conveyor oven, lack of enforcement of company procedures and poor food handling practices are the cause most of the time. It’s surprising more people have not become ill.

  • Janet Thomas

    Why for God’s sake is this still a problem?BK should be held responsible and the retraining is for show….

  • Casey Denney

    I used to be a work at a burger king in my town and have used the broiler model in question and all I have to say is even if the broiler is to blame the workers should notice uncooked meat and know what should be done with it, and all the steps they are taking to correct this problem are things they are already required to do on a daily basis. I would blame poor training as a result of this problem and enforce that these burger kings have a better training program put in place so that the workers can serve better food. By the way all these workers are supposed to have washington state food handlers cards and to get those you have to take a test and in that test they talk about e-coli and beef cooking. So as I see it this should have not ever been a concern or a problem if people were paying attention to thier jobs.