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FSA publishes rare burger guidance

Tom Wall16/03/2016 - 13:32

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Rare burgers are popular
Rare burgers are popular

Restaurants that source their meat from approved butchers and warn customers of the risks will be able to sell rare burgers under draft guidance released by the Food Standards Agency.

Food businesses will also have to notify their local authority and implement a strict temperature control regime to prevent the growth of any harmful bacteria.

The guidance, which is out for consultation now, is a response to the growing popularity of burgers served pink.

The FSA said: ‘It is aimed at helping businesses meet consumer demand for rare burgers while keeping customers protected.’

Food businesses wanting to serve rare burgers will have to:

• Source meat only from establishments with specific controls in place to minimise the risk of contamination of meat intended to be eaten raw or lightly cooked.

• Ensure that the supplier carries out appropriate testing of raw meat to check that their procedures for minimising contamination are working.

• Ensure strict temperature control to prevent growth of any bugs and appropriate preparation and cooking procedures.

• Notify their local authority if they are serving burgers that aren’t thoroughly cooked.

• Provide advice to consumers, for example on menus, regarding the additional risk.

However the FSA’s long-standing advice to consumers that burgers prepared at home should be cooked thoroughly will remain unchanged.

Hugh Pennington, who has chaired two E coli inquiries, told EHN he was very unhappy with the guidance, which will guide local authority enforcement action.

‘I don't agree with any move away from the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food six log principle. It has served us well,’ he said. ‘The adoption of these proposals would make consumers less safe.’

He accused the FSA of caving into commercial interests.

‘The public is not always right. John Barr’s customers in Wishaw voted him Scottish Butcher of the Year not long before 21 of them died,’ he said. ‘The proposals are not based on sound science, particularly when taking account of the very low infectious dose for Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC), its pathogenic potential, and supershedders.’

Jenny Morris, CIEH principal policy officer, said that smaller businesses might not be able to understand the guidance.

'The complex requirements are perhaps achievable for large chains but unlikely to be understood by, or appropriate to, smaller businesses,’ she said.

She also questioned if consumers would be able to grasp the infrequent but serious risks posed by pink burgers.

‘Will consumers really be able to understand the risks from a product with the potential to carry a low dose, intermittently occurring pathogen that can cause death and severe disability? Much research shows that general risk based judgement is poor,’ she said.

Dr Lisa Ackerley, a food safety consultant, also expressed concern about warnings on menus.

She said she was concerned that not everyone would accept or know that they may be in a vulnerable group, which includes adults over 60, children, pregnant women and people with immune-compromised conditions such as cancer.

‘The vulnerable group could be well over a third or more of the population. Banding together such a large and disparate group of the population to tell them that certain foods may be more risky, seems to fly in the face of protecting specific categories of consumers,’ she said.

She added there were safe ways to serve burgers pink.

‘Where there is a will there is a way – it is perfectly possible to serve food to the colour or consistency that a customer may want – and with the right advice, it can be done safely in many circumstances; if it can’t be done safely, then I would advise against it however an advisory notice is worded,’ she said.

Chefs, she said, can cook burgers safely through a variety of time and temperature combinations.

‘This means that a burger, cooked for say 45 minutes at 60°C, perhaps in a sous vide method, may still appear pink but would be safe to eat. A quick flash on the grill and it may have an acceptable exterior and interior for the “rare” burger customer,’ she said.

The FSA told EHN it hadn’t moved away from the ACMSF advice but it recognised that where food businesses are able to put appropriate controls in place throughout the supply chain, to reduce potential contamination of the meat, then a less thorough cook can be used.

The watchdog accepted that there might still be extra risks.

'We also recognise that despite those controls, consumption of burgers less than thoroughly cooked may carry some additional risk for consumers. This is why we advise businesses serving pink burgers to warn their customers, particularly those more vulnerable to food poisoning, with appropriate messaging, for example on menus,' said the spokesperson.


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