Ground Meats: Convenient, but Safe?

When it comes to cooking proteins quickly and easily, ground meat comes to mind as one of the top go-to choices.

Not only are ground meats extremely versatile in terms of what you can prepare with them, from burgers to meatballs to scrambling them with eggs and veggies, they’re also incredibly easy to cook, making them a great choice for new cooks who may be fearful of overcooking a pork chop or undercooking chicken.

And yes, ground meats can be safe to eat, too, both for you as well as for the whole family, but there are a couple of caveats to review here first.

Think: sourcing and cooking temperatures!

Are you buying meat that’s already ground, or are you grinding your own?

If the former, it’s worth really taking a good look at whom the supplier is.

Gerald Zirnstein, a former United States Department of Agriculture scientist and, now, whistleblower, knows that 70 percent of the ground beef we buy at the supermarket contains something he calls “pink slime”, according to an article published on[1].

“Pink slime” is beef trimmings. Once only used in dog food and cooking oil, the trimmings are now sprayed with ammonia so they are safe to eat and added to most ground beef as cheap filler.

Sounds like a good enough reason to begin grinding your own meat!  

And don’t worry; it’s not nearly as onerous as you might think.

Remember that Kitchen Aid Mixer you received as a wedding gift, but nearly gave away once you began following a real Paleo diet and quit baking?

Well, for less than $50, you can purchase the corresponding meat grinder attachment and believe me, it’s not only easy, it’s fun!   

Just like with everything else, when you make it yourself, you can feel much more at ease knowing exactly what you’re getting!

Now what about other types of ground proteins, such as pork or poultry; are they safe?

Interestingly, while there’s still the same risk involved with buying any type of protein already ground up, ground beef in particular has had some unfortunate incidents associated with it in recent history.

For example, we’re all too familiar with the infamous case in 1993 in which over 500 consumers became ill from e-coli and four died as a result of consuming undercooked ground beef patties at a fast food chain[2].

I think it’s fairly safe to assume that the fast food chain was not mindfully buying its beef from ranchers who raise their cattle completely on grass, nor were they likely to be keeping vigilant on packing and shipping, although that’s just my opinion, of course.

Once again where you’re sourcing your proteins from plays a large role in what occurred.

The easiest rule of thumb to adhere to is cooking temps.

When in doubt, remember the magic number: 160°F.

The only way to determine that ground beef patties, or other products formed from ground beef, such as meat loaf or large meat balls, are safely cooked is to use a thermometer to determine the safe temperature of 160°F has been reached[3].

You can pick up a meat thermometer for ten bucks, which is an essential kitchen tool.

And now to the fun part- deciding what to cook with which protein?   Can you use ground pork for a recipe that called for ground beef? Or ground chicken to replace salmon?

Yes, but it’ll require a little bit of planning and testing to get the prefect rendition.


It’s all about the fat.

Just as we have to factor in that grass fed beef in general has less fat than corn fed beef, thus requiring less time to drying out if overcooked, the same principles apply here.

If the recipe calls for an 85% fat ground beef and you opt to go with fat free ground turkey breast, it’s not going to be pretty. It’ll be dry. Very dry.

Your options, then are to go with a fattier type of protein to match the fattier ground beef (both of which, by the way, are good for your fats, so go get ‘em!), or to toy around with the rest of the recipe to see what you might add or omit to prevent a dried out, chewy finished product.

Fresh herbs rather than dried, perhaps adding certain oils depending on the recipe or even grinding in some nuts could potentially work, but ideally, do your best to swap a leaner protein for a leaner protein and so on.

Burgers tonight, a veggie and egg scramble tomorrow for breakfast and perhaps a chilled, pureed soup of beef and veggies for lunch.

Talk about reinventing leftovers!

Click here for a sneak peak into my favorite cuts to use to make the most amazing burger!

[1] “70 Percent of Ground Beef at Supermarkets Contains ‘Pink Slime'” ABC News. ABC News Network, 07 Mar. 2012

[2] Davis, M. plus 34 others.  1993. Update: Multistate outbreak of Escherichia coli O157:H7 infections from hamburgers — Western United States, 1992-1993, Morb. Mort. Weekly Rep. 42(14):258-263.

[3] McCurdy, Sandra, PhD. “Ground Beef: Safe Handling and Cooking.” Food Safety News. Food Safety News,