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FSA helps restaurants write rare burger warnings

Tom Wall02/09/2015 - 12:33

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Byron will put messages on menus (Pic: Gavin Sanctis)
Byron will put messages on menus (Pic: Gavin Sanctis)

The FSA is working with upmarket burger chains to develop warnings to make consumers aware of the risks of eating pink burgers.

Proposals released ahead of its board meeting next week reveal it has been discussing the wording of warnings with chains such as Burger & Lobster and Byron.

‘Several multi-site food businesses have introduced or are piloting consumer advisory statements and other chains are discussing with us the wording for statements that will appear on their menus,’ it states.

Byron, which is planning to display messages on its menus, told EHN customer safety, as well as choice, was paramount.

‘We are pleased that the FSA recognise the increasing customer demand for proper pink hamburgers and are balancing this with ensuring public health remains protected,’ it said in a statement.

It added it preferred to cook its hamburgers pink but accepted it should be up to the customer.

‘Our quality and safety processes are at the heart of what we do - we source the highest quality freshly ground and fully traceable beef from Scotland and we have always had strict supplier controls and product testing at all stages from field to fork. Our verified rigorous procedures have stood us in good stead since we opened our first restaurant nearly 8 years ago, and 16 million proper hamburgers later, our record speaks for itself.’

Burger & Lobster will be placing signs in the entrance to its building this year (see below). They will state: ‘The government advises that the consumption of raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish or eggs may increase illness, particularly for those in vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly.’


Under the proposals restaurants with warning signs and approved food safety management systems will be able serve rare beef burgers.

The document asks the board to agree that the risk posed by rare burgers is ‘not so unacceptable’ as to justify removing the adult consumer’s right to choose to eat it providing ‘a validated and verified food safety management is applied’.

Restaurants wanting to serve burgers rare will have put in place a raft of measures including sourcing meat from approved butchers, rigorous testing and possibly steam cleaning kitchens. 

However the FSA stresses the advice to consumers should remain to cook burgers thoroughly until they are steaming hot throughout.

‘These controls cannot all be assured for domestic supply and preparation of burgers, when cooking burgers and similar products at home or elsewhere (e.g. barbecues) consumers should ensure they observe good hygiene practices and that burgers are cooked so they are steaming hot all the way through, that none of the product is pink, and that any juices run clear.’

Jenny Morris, CIEH principal policy officer, said the requirements would not be suitable for all food businesses.

‘The requirements to ensure “acceptable levels” of risk are complex and require sophisticated and validated food safety management systems along the supply chain. For many food businesses contemplating serving rare burgers this is likely to require considerable investment and change to existing systems. It is important that the requirements are fully understood and early discussions with EHOs are recommended, as the approach will not be suitable for all food businesses.’

Ms Morris added that there was a danger the guidance would be misunderstood.

‘The science shows that it is possible to reduce the risks and produce “fairly safe” rare burgers but this requires special controls, which won’t be in place for the majority of burger production. The danger is that this will be misunderstood and people will consider that undercooking is OK with any burger. Clearly this is not the case as recent outbreaks in Scotland and Northern Ireland have shown.’

Professor Hugh Pennington, who has chaired two public inquires into E. coli outbreaks, told EHN in July that the risks could not be managed safely.

‘For me the only alternative to the ACMSF safe cooking procedure necessary to  prevent E. coil O157and other similar contaminants causing a potentially lethal infection would be irradiation of the mince. No chance. It has to be the ACMSF,’ he said.

A restaurant in Portsmouth, 6 oz Burgers, is currently challenging a hygiene emergency prohibition notice preventing it from serving burgers rare. The case is expected to be heard at Portsmouth magistrates in October.

Last year 22 people were made ill with E. coli with three hospitalised after eating undercooked burgers at the SSE Hydro conference centre in Glasgow.

The 1993 Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak in the US, which was linked to undercooked burgers, led to the deaths of four children. It made 732 people ill, with 195 hospitalised.

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