Burgers, or any ground meat-based food items, need to be cooked at higher cooking temperatures to keep them safe from Escherichia coli (E.coli) bacteria, a new study has found. The new findings came just in time for those summer barbecue parties.

University of Alberta researchers have found that the E.coli bacteria can survive beyond the recommended cooking temperature for ground beef by Health Canada.

Federal health authorities suggest cooking burgers at 71 degrees Celsius to kill off any pathogens that can cause sickness among consumers.

The researchers discovered 16 genes that can only be found in E.coli strains that are highly resistant to heat. These genes make up approximately 2 percent of the entire E.coli strains.

"If it's in two percent of all E.coli, and in pathogenic E.coli, there's the potential that a pathogen could survive the standard cooking protocols for ground beef. It could mean we have to change the guidelines for cooking meat," said food microbiologist Lynn McMullen from the Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science.

McMullen recommended cooking ground meat between 71 and 73 degrees Celsius as well as using a cooking gadget to monitor the cooking temperature.

"It doesn't matter when you're grilling any ground meat, you should be using a thermometer," added McMullen.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, a particular type of E.coli infection was observed in an average of 440 cases reported annually in the last few years. From 2000 and 2004 alone, there had been 129 E.coli outbreaks.

While not all E.coli strains can result in illness, the harmful ones can cause mild and severe cramps, bloody diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. The worst E.coli infection cases can lead to kidney failure and death.

Children, senior adults, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems face the highest risks of developing worse E.coli infections as well as serious health consequences.

Apart from meat, E.coli can also be found in uncooked vegetables, raw fruits, untreated drinking water, unpasteurized cider, apple juice, milk and dairy products.

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