It may be the "Home of the Whopper," but a number of area Burger King restaurants have gotten into hot water with the Department of Health.
Several Burger King restaurants in seven Washington counties were found to have undercooked burgers.
The restaurants were located in seven Washington counties including, King, Pierce, Whatcom, Gray's Harbor, Adams, Benton-Franklin Health District and Kitsap.
"It seems there is a systematic problem with Burger King's grills. They're not maintained well," said Bill Marler, a local food safety attorney. "The main thing Burger King needs to ask themselves is how widespread is this problem."
"Hamburger needs to be cooked at 155 degrees and every food establishment like Burger King or any food establishment has systems in place to make sure that food is cooked to the proper temperature," said Dave Gifford, Food Safety Manager with the Washington State Department of Health.
Due to a grill malfunction, many of the patties coming off the grill were not properly cooked.
"The cause of the undercooking is a mechanical problem," said Marler, adding "whether the grills are getting old or they're not being cleaned thoroughly."
In 1993, an E. coli outbreak due to undercooked meat at Jack in the Box restaurants sickened more than 700 people, several of them in Washington State. Four of the children involved in that incident died.
However, according to Gifford, this incident is not nearly as serious as the E. coli incident of 1993.
"This is the public health system working," he said. "This is the public health system finding an issue, in this case finding an issue with a couple different stores at Burger King."
Here is a copy of the letter the Department of Health's food safety advisor, Larry French, sent to Burger King:
"As we discussed, we are deeply concerned about reports relating to undercooking hamburgers at many Burger Kings in our state. Inspection reports from several of our local health jurisdictions show a disturbing trend. Below I have listed some of the findings from these inspections. I will alert them that you would like to have specific information sent to you."
French then listed 14 findings including undercooked patties, workers unable to take the burgers' final temperatures and workers did not know that undercooked patties should be discarded.
“We are eager to hear how Burger King will solve these serious food safety concerns. The minimum outcome must be fully cooked foods, trained staff to assure this, and equipment that is reliable and easy to operate,” French added. “Our office is more than willing to assist you in this resolution. Please contact me as needed."
A Burger King spokeswoman responded late Wednesday evening with the following statement.
"Burger King Corp. (BKC) has recently been made aware of the findings from the Washington State Health Department and is investigating the matter to determine whether all proper cooking protocols were followed at the inspected restaurants.
Preliminary findings from the health department indicate some of the restaurants inspected produced variable cooking temperatures that did not meet BKC’s stringent food safety procedures.
These franchise operators are now taking immediate action to ensure that their restaurants are meeting the company’s stringent food preparation procedures, which include cooking hamburger patties to a target temperature of 165o F, as well as, verifying cooking temperatures at least four times a day.
In an abundance of caution, BKC is conducting a retraining session today with franchise operators in Washington State and is requesting restaurant teams be retrained on proper procedures."