Will you have yours medium-rare?

Here's an email that just came in from a New Times reader: I have just finished reading your article. "Overdone", in the Sept. 13 issue of the New Times. While I have never been to Stax, something in your article struck me as wrong. You mentioned that the server never asked how you liked your burger cooked, but you ordered it medium-rare anyways. You were then disappointed that they came out either well-done or raw. I have been a waiter for many years now, and your article surprised me. I thought the Maricopa County Health Department required that ground meat be served at no less than 155 degrees farrentheit, which would put it right between medium and medium-well. Certainly no restaurant I have worked in over the past decade or so in Phoenix allowed a guest to receive a medium-rare burger. I never ask how someone wants it cooked, although I will explain the limitations placed on us if the subject comes up.

Am I mistaken? Is it legal to serve ground meats at medium-rare in a restaurant in our county? I am not surprised that the cooks couldn't get it right, as it takes practice to time cooking something like a burger, which can't be "touch-tested" like a steak could. I am surprised that they attempted at all.

On the whole I enjoy your articles very much, and I found "Overdone" entertaining and informative. I just would like clarification on that one point.

That was an interesting question; I've never considered whether it was actually legal to serve burgers medium rare, as I have been asked, on many occasions, how I would like my burger cooked.

Anyway, I'm no health inspector, and the reader piqued my curiosity, so I went ahead and looked it up. According to the Maricopa County Environmental Health Code, the food must be cooked to at least 140 degrees. (Medium-rare in the burger world.) The temperature requirements are slightly different for poultry, pork, roast beef, and steak.

I've definitely seen notations on many menus indicating that eating raw/undercooked foods may increase one's risk of food-borne illness, and I've also eaten my share of those raw/undercooked dishes.

This all has me thinking about the legality of different foods and food preparations, something that's never really been on my radar. I've always just jumped right in and tried things (at trusted establishments, of course) just to be adventurous. Sometimes the weirdest, most off-putting things turn out to be the tastiest. In Japan, I've had chicken sashimi as well as whale sashimi, and someday I'd like to try fugu (the potentially poisonous fish). I'm sure they'd all be illegal here, for more than one reason.

What do you guys think about it? Do you hesitate to order something rare or medium-rare?

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