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Why not order/cook a steak to medium rare?

First, as discussed in yesterday's article and recipe on sashimi Nicoise, people fear food poisoning. How many diners order rare and medium-rare beef on any given night? Thousands? Millions? When was the last time you read about someone getting E. coli from eating a medium-rare steak?

Second, and perhaps more viable, is a distaste for blood pooling on one's plate or dripping down one's chin. After all, it is blood. Any meat not cooked to death has a degree of blood. That's what makes a medium-cooked steak pink in the middle. It's blood that makes a steak "juicy". No blood equals no juice.

Third is Religious principles (Warning: political statement follows): Halal (Islamic) and Kosher (Jewish) meat preparation are amongst the toughest in the world. Both are exceedingly similar. There can be NO blood. Only certain "gentle" killing methods apply. Strangling, beating, most sloppy and painful methods do not apply. Islamic cows are treated with respect. (This from the people who sentence a man to five years and 1000 lashes for discussing sex in public. Perhaps, in some countries, being a cow is a safer choice.)  About 70% of the world's Islamic population consumes Halal-prepared foods. According to Wikipedia, that translates to a worldwide 500 Billion dollar industry. Depending upon one's perspective, in a pinch Kosher can be exchanged for Halal - except that Halal foods need to be blessed in the name of Allah (and there are other differences, as well). But your author digresses. Both religions demand that cooked meat is blood-free. Amongst Jews, it's mainly the orthodox that follow these laws.

Let's call the fourth reason Cultural Profiling: in general African-Americans, for example, like their meat well-done. Like any generality, it's not true of all. But the results may be deadly. According to a six-year study performed by the University of Davis (paraphrased):

African-American men consume about twice as much PhIP, a carcinogen in cooked meat, as white men — and the greater their PhIP consumption, the higher their bloodstream concentrations of prostate-specific antigen, a marker for early prostate cancer.

The findings — which may help explain why black men die from prostate cancer at more than twice the rate of white men — stem from an ongoing study of diet and prostate cancer risk in African-American men in Oakland, Calif. The six-year-old study is led by a team of scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and UC Davis Cancer Center. The scientists report their preliminary findings in the journal Prostate Cancer and Prostatic Diseases.

“We’re increasingly confident that we’re onto something,” said lead author Kenneth Bogen, an environmental scientist at Lawrence Livermore and member of the UC Davis Cancer Center research program. “The hope is that we will really be able to tell people how to lower their risk.”

Since 2001, more than 600 African-American men have participated in the study by answering detailed dietary questions, including how frequently they eat chicken, beef, pork and fish, in what quantities, using which cooking methods and to what degree of doneness. The study uses standardized food-model photographs to help participants report portion sizes and a set of meat-doneness descriptors and meat-doneness photographs to help standardize their reports of cooking preferences.

James Felton, co-leader of UC Davis Cancer Center's Cancer Etiology, Prevention and Control Program and division leader of the Biosciences Directorate at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, was among the first scientists to discover PhIP and other heterocyclic amines in cooked meats in the 1970s. He and his team went on to show that the compounds begin to form when meat temperatures reach 350 degrees Fahrenheit, that at the same temperature, chicken has more than beef, pork or fish, and that cooking time greatly increases PhIP concentration — a gram of chicken cooked to medium has 5.9 nanograms of the carcinogen, for example, while a gram of extra well-done (blackened) chicken has 69.0.oneness photographs to help standardize their reports of cooking preferences.

You may find all of this interesting but it is also newsworthy. This is the same carcinogen that recently made headlines regarding KFC (Kentucky Fried Carcinogen):

“Grilled chicken can increase the risk of cancer, and KFC consumers deserve to know that this supposedly healthy product is actually just as bad for them as high-fat fried chicken,” says Neal D. Barnard, M.D., the president of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). “KFC should post warnings because its aggressively marketed new product harbors a chemical that increases the risk of breast cancer, prostate cancer, and other forms of this lethal disease.”

A PCRM scientist visited six different KFC stores, obtained two samples from each location, and sent them to an independent testing laboratory. All 12 samples were found to contain PhIP, a chemical classified as a carcinogen by the federal government, the state of California, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. PhIP, part of a chemical family known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs), has been linked to several forms of cancer, including breast cancer, in numerous scientific studies. No safe level of ingestion has been identified. Every sample also tested positive for at least one additional type of HCA.

KFC is clearly in violation of California’s public health law, known as Proposition 65. “In order to adequately comply with the requirements of Proposition 65, Defendant must conspicuously post specific warnings with respect to the carcinogenic dangers of the grilled chicken that it offers for sale,” says PCRM in its complaint. PCRM has already sued McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A, and five other national restaurant chains that sell grilled chicken containing PhIP.

By now, you should feel played. The Fresh Meat title was the bait. The humor in the first few paragraphs entertained... You were hooked... Towards the end and by the time you found yourself reading about a probable connection between well-done meat and prostate cancer, it was too late. You were reeled in, filleted and left with a sort of dry, overcooked and carcinogenic taste in your mouth.

Try this: If you like your steak cooked well-done, next time order it medium-well. If you like it medium-well, try medium. It’s possible you have always eaten meat fully cooked because that’s how you were raised. Poor thing. It’s all you know. You can’t be held accountable for your past dining habits. Now, however, you do know. You can’t hide from yourself.


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