Rare Burgers & Beef – Are they Safe to Eat?

September 2, 2019

The new Prime Minster of the UK has demonstrated how he’s a little behind the times when it comes to food safety. In a recent interview, the PM expressed “that can’t be true” when told of the food safety restrictions on diners ordering burgers and other minced beef and lamb dishes served pink.

Under rules imposed by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) two years ago, restaurants can no longer serve minced or chopped beef or lamb products that are “less than thoroughly cooked” without following specific, strict hygiene procedures. It comes after he promised to look into “sin taxes” on food high in salt, fat and sugar over fears they unfairly hit low-income families.

The procedures food businesses must follow to get approval from EHOs to serve pink burgers include: using approved beef/lamb suppliers, proving their recipes are safe and warning customers of the risks of food poisoning.

Told about the restrictions for the first time in a Spectator interview, Boris said: “Can you not order rare hamburgers now?” He went on: “Why the hell not? That’s ludicrous, that can’t be true.”

The reason for this is that bacteria (salmonella, e-coli and campylobacter, for example) live on the outside of meats – when you sear a steak, this kills the bacteria. But as the meat is minced up in a burger, those bacteria could still be living on the inside.

Back in 2017, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) released details of new regulations, stating that all businesses serving minced meat products, such as burgers, must obtain specific approval to serve them anything less than thoroughly cooked. Two years on and the regulations have helped to increase food safety around the country. 

The new regulations were introduced following a consultation period by the FSA and apply to caterers selling burgers which are not well-cooked. Any restaurants wishing to serve less than thoroughly cooked burgers will need to seek verification from their meat supplier that they are approved either by the FSA or their local authority.

The FSA guidance suggests that cooking at 70°C for two minutes at the centre of the meat or 75°C for 30 seconds would be sufficient to achieve the required reduction of pathogens, reducing an estimated 10 million bacteria to start with, down to just 10 after cooking.

 Our STS Food Safety Expert, Annabel Kyle, explains the necessity of cooking burgers thoroughly:

“Beef and lamb meat can become contaminated with harmful bacteria, such as E.coli O157, during slaughter, handling and preparation, but is confined to the external surfaces of the meat.  However, when these meats are minced or chopped and made into burgers, or other similar products, any bacteria on the outside surfaces is mixed up into the middle of the burger.  If the burger is then not thoroughly cooked through, the bacteria can survive and cause illness.  E.coli O157 can cause serious illness and organ failure – kidney failure is a risk with this bacteria, especially for children.  It only takes a small number of these bacteria to cause illness so cooking burgers right through to the middle is really important.

If food businesses do wish to serve pink or rare burgers, they must notify their local authority before starting to offer them to customers to make sure they have their approval and they must ensure that their purchase, hygiene and HACCP controls are in place and suitably robust.”

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