Is That Leftover Hamburger Safe To Eat?

What could possibly be more American than a hamburger? One of the most beloved foods ever, millions are sold each year in the US, and now, there are many ‘burger joints’ overseas, as well. Few things in life are more satisfying than a well-made hamburger or cheeseburger, french fries and a cold Coke. There are as many variations of hamburgers as there are different kinds of people, and everyone vehemently defends their particular favorite. Whether you have one with mayo, onions and lettuce, or Heinz 57 and onions, or (my favorite) an Old Fashoined, with mustard, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle, on a toasted bun, or even just a plain old Kystal’s or White Castle’s, everyone would agree that the hamburger is the ultimate comfort food. I’m getting hungry just writing about it.

Most people can’t tell you where hamburgers originated. When I went through McDonalds Hamburger Academy in the 1960s, we were told that ancient Teutons, who were traversing the Balkans, observed, and dined with Tribal groups who ate raw ground meat on bread. They liked it so much that they brought it back with them to their capital of Hamburg, and the ‘Hamburger’ was born. As romantic as this story is, there is not one shred of evidence to back it up. The first records of anything resembling a hamburger was in 1880, in Athens, Texas. Fletcher Davis is recorded as selling sandwiches made from ground beef in his diner at 115 Tyler St. These were closer to the French Dip, than to what we know as a hamburger, but the basics were established, and he brought them with him to the 1904 Worlds Fair in St. Louis, Mo., where they were a stellar hit. In 1885, two brothers, Charles and Frank Menches were serving sausage sandwiches at the Erie County Fair, near Hamburg, NY. They ran out of sausage, and started using plain ground beef. It was an instant success. They named their creation after the nearby city, calling them ‘Hamburgers’. Only one thing was left to be developed to bring the hamburger to it’s ultimate evolution. In 1891, in Tulsa, OK., Oscar Weber Bilby began serving ground beef on Kaiser Rolls, in his Weber’s Root Beer Stands. The rest is history. One more important development occured in 1916. A fry cook, Walter Anderson, developed special hamburger buns, which were such a hit that by 1921, he co-founded White Castle. Of course, we can’t forget about the cheeseburger. It was invented by Lionel Sternberger at the Rite Spot Cafe in 1925. He burned a hamburger on one side, so he threw on a piece of cheese and melted it to hide the fact. It started a craze.

Hamburger meat itself is also very popular. One of the most versatile meats, it can be used in all kinds of dishes, such as casseroles, Salisbury Steaks, Meatlof, etc….Many people are confused by the terms Hamburger, and Ground Beef. The only difference is that beef fat can be added to hamburger meat, up to 30%, by weight. Ground Beef can also have up to 30% fat, but it cannot be added fat. There is also Ground Chuck, which can have up to 20% fat, Ground Round, with up to 15% fat, and lastly, Ground Sirloin, which can only be 10% or less fat. Other than that, it’s all the same meat. Many health-conscious people opt for the less-fat varieties, but remember, most of the flavor in meat comes from the fat. And fat is also what makes it tender. Most of the fat will cook out as grease in any case, so using extra-lean burger meat is not going to help you that much. You might as well just enjoy a reasonable-sized, unadulterated burger, and maybe do a few extra reps on your next workout. It’s worth it.

There is one safety concern associated with the production, and consumption of hamburger meat. Bacteria, especially the E. Coli strain, are everywhere. They can contaminate the surface of meat, and multiply to dangerous levels. Grinding beef exposes more surface area for the bacteria to contaminate, and also allows it to mixed up inside the meat. This is not really a problem if proper culinary saftey procedures are followed. Ground beef should always be frozen if it is not going to be used within a day or so. Ground beef can be safely cooked while frozen, with virtually no loss in food quality. Ground beef should always be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 160°F.’

Leftover hamburger meat should be stored in the refrigerator within 4 hours of cooking, or better yet, re-frozen. Cooked hamburger meat can be re-frozen, and re-cooked with no significant loss of quality. Hamburger can be kept at 40’°F or less for up to 2 days, and still be safe to eat. Frozen hamburger meat will keep indefinitely, but there will be a little loss of quality after about 4 months or so.

There are way too many uses for leftover hamburgers, and hamburger meat to list here. As long as you follow these safety guidelines, let your imagination run free. Hamburger is way too good to waste.