I made it to Canada today on a planeload of tourists wearing masks (not clear whom they are protecting) to give the Keynote Address to the 75th annual gathering of the Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors Wednesday morning. Checking in at the Lodge at Kananaskis (where it is snowing), a nice inspector (aren’t all Canadians nice?) came up to me and introduced himself. After talking hockey for a bit, he asked if I "had heard that President Obama had eaten a rare hamburger today.” I smiled and said I would check into it right away. Although I tend on this blog not to focus on what the Obama’s eat (I leave that to the brilliant lady at www.obamafoodorama.com), I must admit I was at a loss as to why our president would engage in such risky behavior.
So, I went to the pages of the Washington Post and found the President’s quote actually ordering the bad burger (potentially so):
Obama, customer No. 42, opted for something more simple: "Your basic cheddar cheeseburger, medium well."
No ketchup, the president said, but lettuce and tomato. And: "Have you got a spicy mustard or somethin’ like that? A Dijon mustard?"
So, what is medium well? Is it sufficient to kill the deadly E. coli O157:H7 bacteria? Given that in 2006 USDA/FSIS recalled less that 200,000 pounds of E. coli-tainted hamburger and over 44,000,000 pounds have been recalled since the Spring of 2007, was the President taking a risk just over 100 days after taking office? Heck, even without an appointed head of FSIS, more E. coli O157:H7 meat was recalled on Monday.
I guess the answer is – it depends? What did Medium Well mean to the Commander in Chief? What did it mean to the Chef? Did the Chef have a thermometer? Did the Chef take the internal temperature of the burger to the required 160F? Poking around the internet I found a handy chat that indicated Medium Well is 150-165F. So, if the Chef today was in the upper range our President is safe. However, what if the Chef did not have a thermometer? What if he did not use it? What if the Chef went on color to determine "doneness?"
Bottom Line – the incubation period (time between ingestion and first signs of illness) for an E. coli O157:H7 infection is 3-4 days – so, time will tell. Interestingly, the President also ordered hamburgers for the press – he ordered them only cooked medium.