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FSA rejects chef’s criticism

Corin Williams21/08/2013 - 14:00

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Pate can carry campylobacter
Pate can carry campylobacter

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has defended council’s food safety advice after a number of top chefs criticised EHOs for warning against serving some kinds of meat products rare.

A series of reports outlined concerns from chefs and food writers that restaurants are being unnecessarily restricted in the way they prepare meat.

Writing in the Spectator magazine, food critic Prue Leith said FSA guidance on cooking meats such as offal and duck should not apply to non-fast food restaurants.

In another publication a chef at a restaurant in Kensington and Chelsea said he had been told to stop serving chicken livers pink. He was reported as saying: ‘It’s frustrating to be told what you can and can’t cook. We tend to ignore it.’

FSA chief scientist Andrew Wadge said there was a danger the media was ‘over-egging the pudding’.

He said: ‘But we don’t make up cooking times to frustrate creativity in the kitchen. They’re there for an important reason and are the result of careful consideration by an independent expert committee in these matters – the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food.

‘I think the FSA and local authorities get the balance right between letting chefs do their jobs and protecting public health.’

Speaking on the BBC Jenny Morris, CIEH principal policy officer, said: ‘Food safety rules are based on science and they’re about protecting people, not unnecessarily restricting chefs.

‘There are risks in some foods. Cooking and safety rules are about reducing that to a safe level.’

A spokesperson for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea told EHN: ‘We work with caterers to ensure they are aware of the dangers, including campylobacter food poisoning, thought to be linked to the undercooking of chicken liver. To date we are not aware of any outbreaks of campylobacter food poisoning linked with chicken liver products in Kensington and Chelsea.

‘Advice has been given to businesses regarding the cooking of chicken livers. The advice we provide is based on that from the FSA. Depending on the situation and the food safety management controls in place at a business further action may be considered if necessary.’

An FSA spokesperson said: ‘Steak is safe to eat rare. Whole cuts of beef or lamb, such as steaks, cutlets and joints only have germs on the outside, so as long as the outside is fully cooked any germs will be killed. But this isn't true for poultry, pork, burgers and sausages, these must be cooked all the way through.

‘Unlike steaks, burgers and sausages are made from meat that has been minced, so germs will be spread throughout the product and not just on the surface. This means these products need to be properly cooked all the way through.

‘The responsibility rests with food businesses to produce safe food, and if they want to serve rare burgers, they need to demonstrate that this can be done under proper control, and in a safe way.’

Ms Leith also criticised a decision to reduce the hygiene rating of a kitchen run by celebrity chef Marcus Wareing because he did not have separate vacuum packing machines for raw and cooked food.

Guidance on vacuum packing machines and minimising cross-contamination risks between cooked and raw foods were developed in the wake of the 2005 Wales E. coli outbreak that led to the death of a five-year-old boy.

A key element of the outbreak was the use of a vacuum packer for both raw and cooked meat at the John Tudor and Sons butchers in Bridgend.

Cases of food poisoning from campylobacter, which is commonly associated with raw chicken products and chicken liver pate, have been steadily rising. In 2012 there were more than 72,500 cases, compared to fewer than 50,000 in 2004.

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