In 1992 in response to a growing risk of pathogenic E. coli being linked to hamburger being cooked to the 140 degrees then suggested by the FDA Food Code, the State of Washington Department of Health increased the recommended temperature to 155 degrees – the only state to do so. Officials disseminated the new temperature to all restaurants in the state and the corporate headquarters of nationwide restaurant chains – that included San Diego, California based Jack-in-the-Box.
Jack-in-the-Box ignored the Department of Health recommendation and the result was over 700 with E. coli O157:H7, including dozens with acute kidney failure and the deaths of four children.
During the resulting litigation it was uncovered that corporate officials at Jack-in-the-Box knew about the recommendations but ignored it. It cost them over $100,000,000.
Now, over twenty-two years later a smaller E. coli O157:H7 outbreak at Vermont’s Worthy Burger has been linked to a dozen illnesses and undercooked, E. coli tainted burgers.
According to press reports, Worthy Burger was closed for five days starting September 17, switched several food vendors, and made other changes. Vermont State officials also advised Worthy Burger that hamburgers be cooked to 155 degrees for at least 15 seconds to ensure any potential pathogens are cooked out.
After the closure when asked by the press if Worthy Burger was cooking hamburgers to 155 degrees, Jason Merrill, the executive chef, said, “Our customers are telling us what temperature they’d like their hamburger.” Worthy Burger continued to cook hamburgers rare and medium-rare at customers’ request.
After Worthy Burger reopened on September 22 another customer became ill with E. coli O157:H7. This new illness led Worthy Burger to reconsider its practices in regards to rare burgers. Jason Merrill confirmed that Worthy Burger, which used to advertise its signature burger as locally sourced, grass fed and as “pink in the middle,” is now thoroughly cooking all of its burgers, according to press reports.
“We’re not doing rare burgers,” Merrill said. “What’s happening right now, we’re cooking our burgers all the way through to the USDA-recommended temperature of 155 degrees.”
Hey, Jason Merrill – brilliant idea – just a bit late.