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Portsmouth pink burger ban ‘was right’

Tom Wall09/12/2015 - 14:05

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6oz Burgers was stopped selling rare burgers
6oz Burgers was stopped selling rare burgers

A judge has backed environmental health officers who ordered a restaurant to stop serving rare burgers because it could not cook them safely.

Portsmouth City Council placed an emergency hygiene notice on 6oz Burgers in the Southsea area of the city last April, because the business did not have a proper system to ensure the undercooked burgers were safe.

The owners stopped selling pink burgers so the council withdrew the notice. But the business challenged the basis of the notice in court.

District judge Anthony Callaway last week ruled that the council was justified in imposing the ban because the pink burgers presented an imminent health risk.

In his judgement he wrote: ‘the court is satisfied that the prohibition was justified and that a health risk condition was fulfilled in respect of the food business, here 6oz Burgers at the time when the notice was served.’

The court heard that when the chefs at 6oz Burgers was asked to show EHOs how they cooked burgers they produced a burger that was mostly raw and bloody.

The case will be seen as the first test of the Food Standard Agency’s new approach to rare burgers, which was developed to cope with growing consumer demand for pink burgers.

The FSA was pressed to issue new guidance after Davy’s – a restaurant chain that operates 26 restaurants across London - against a notice served by Westminster Council requiring it to change the way it cooked burgers. The judge ruled that it was acceptable for Davy’s to serve burgers rare because it sourced its beef from a reputable supplier.

Steve Bell, Portsmouth’s environmental health team leader, told EHN that 6oz Burgers did not have a food safety procedure based on Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points in place when they served the notice.

‘We were aware from Trip Advisor that certain companies were using risky foods. We gave them the information from the FSA. We did not show up unannounced and we gave them time. They cooked a burger in front of us and the end result was there was blood pouring out of the burger. It was quite clear that they had a one-page instruction, which basically said take the burgers out of the fridge and put them on the griddle for 4 minutes each side then serve.’

The meat was sourced from a high quality local butcher but Mr Bell said ‘he was using the same machinery that he minces everything else on and the same block and the same fridge’.

Meat served rare or raw must meet special standards, set out in European Union regulations, at every stage in the supply chain in order to ensure that risks are minimised.

‘6oz Burgers were only aware of their supply chain back to the local butcher. They weren’t aware of the abattoir. We made subsequent inquires at the abattoir and they weren’t aware that the meat was being used for that purpose,’ he said.

Mr Bell stressed that there were safe ways to prepare rare burgers.

‘Some companies use a sous vide method where the meat is cooked at a lower temperature for longer and it achieves the correct cooking temperature but it leaves the meat slightly pink. Others use a sear and shave method, where you get a solid piece of meat and you sear the outside so you’ve killed off the bugs and then shave off the cooked part and then mince up the meat that is inside because you are mincing up a solid piece of meat.’

Steve Wearne, director of policy at the Food Standards Agency said he was pleased that the judge has recognised that the local authority was doing no more than fulfilling its duty.

‘Our long-standing advice is that burgers should be cooked thoroughly to kill any bugs that may be present. If you’re cooking burgers at home this should always be the case. However, if a business wants to serve burgers which are less than thoroughly cooked, then there must be appropriate controls in place to ensure consumers are protected,’ he explained.

‘In this case, environmental health officers were not satisfied these controls were in place. We support local authorities in taking action in circumstances where businesses cannot demonstrate that they have adequate controls and where they do not meet legal food safety requirements.’

6oz Burgers owner James Baldry said he was considering appealing. He added he felt ‘very let down and frustrated by the way in which this matter was pursued by the council’.

He said an expert, Dr Slim Dinsdale, conducted an investigation into their supply chain, procedures and the safety of its burgers.

‘Dr Dinsdale provided the court with a report which confirmed our view that the pink burgers we sell at 6oz are of the highest quality and pose no risk to the public.’

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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