I confess to having mixed feelings about Reason TV’s Nanny of the Month, Terry Pierce of North Carolina. Pierce recently declared that he would begin enforcing a statute passed almost 20 years in his state that forbids restaurants from serving hamburger patties rare. The law doesn’t apply to people grilling their own burgers, but the new enforcement policy will keep consumers at eateries from getting it “their way.” Is this a nanny-state overreach, or good public policy based on a real problem?
May’s biggest busybodies are taking it to poker players and teen tanners, but the nation’s top nag has lovers of pink-in-the-middle burgers seeing red.
In a stunning blow to all that is juicy and delicious, the Tar Heel state actually prohibits restaurants from serving rare or medium-rare hamburgers. (And if this crime against meat freedom seems especially un-American, keep in mind that it comes from the same state that once banned Old Glory at public rallies.)
Presenting Reason.tv’s Nanny of the Month for May 2011: Terry Pierce of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources!
Unlike other busybody issues, this one actually has a basis for government action. Over the past couple of decades, a number of people have died from E-coli outbreaks linked to undercooked ground beef in restaurants. The most well-known case involved Jack in the Box restaurants in the 1980s, but they’re hardly alone. The problem originates in contamination that gets missed in USDA inspections and is easily resolved by fully cooking ground beef — or in producing one’s own ground beef from better cuts of meat. (Irradiation at the meatpacker source would also solve the problem, but the US has balked at using that method for safety for entirely baseless fears of radiation.)
Jack in the Box responded to the lawsuits by increasing its cooking time and temperature of meat patties, and some states and lower-level jurisdictions passed bans on rare burgers. The enforcement on those bans is probably next to nil, but few restaurateurs will want to set themselves up for liability if a customer gets sick from a bad hamburger by defying those laws. Most restaurants these days refuse to serve burgers rare with or without enforcement.
I’d be more inclined to vote for the terrorist surveillance that busted a poker game, but that’s just me. There are also good medical reasons to restrict tanning salons to adults only, but considering the fact that the government demands access to abortion for underaged girls without parental consent, I’d call that one a qualified entrant as well. What do you think? Take the poll: