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Hamburgers may be a bit safer thanks to a dash of rosemary on the grill.

There is science behind our food supply, and how we prepare it at home. Whether it is proper cooling, proper cooking, or proper storage of dried foods to reduce insect invasions, it pays to know some of the secrets to healthy eating. Hamburgers are a staple of many American families, and there is new research showing that what we put on that patty when we grill it makes a difference...

Extracts of rosemary have been found in recent years to have beneficial effects on food. The latest one is that the spice can reduce the levels of carcinogenic compounds in grilled ground beef patties.

"Rosemary is a hot antioxidant right now. It's real popular," said J. Scott Smith, a food chemistry professor at Kansas State University, where he is researching the extract for a Food Safety Consortium project. Antioxidants are often used in food additives to guard against deterioration of food.

The compounds heterocyclic amines, known generally as HCAs are found in cooked fish and meats. HCAs are produced in protein-rich muscle foods that have been barbecued, grilled, broiled or fried. They have also been linked in epidemiological studies to various cancers.

Smith's experiments sought to find out how much HCAs can be reduced in ground beef patties after the patties are fortified with rosmarinic acid and carnosic acid, two natural antioxidants extracted from rosemary. The results showed that two HCA compounds were reduced at cooking temperatures of 375 and 400 degrees Fahrenheit, but two others were not. More studies are being conducted to determine if temperature adjustment might make a difference with the compounds that weren't reduced.

We're going to continue this line of research and try to narrow down some of the chemicals in some of the spices because they're loaded with antioxidants," Smith said. "Another thing would be to try some of the things that people put on their foods when they put them on the grill."

Smith explained that many spices containing antioxidants are now being used on some meat products for better color stability and flavor stability, particularly in pre-cooked meats.

Smith is also evaluating the effects of added spices on the production of acylcyclobutanones (ACBs) in irradiated ground beef. Over the last couple of years there have been concerns raised that ACBs may be carcinogenic. At some point in the future, Smith expects there to be some increased government concerns about HCAs in meat with a strategy developed to reduce them. Many of the HCAs found in cooked muscle foods were designated as likely carcinogens in the recent 11th Report on Carcinogens published by the U.S. National Toxicology Program.

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