FSA board calls for more ‘pace’ on rare burger advice

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Rare burgers pose a food poisoning risk
Rare burgers pose a food poisoning risk

Related tags Food standards agency Escherichia coli

The rising popularity of rare burgers in the UK continues to worry food safety experts who fear that, unless proper controls are introduced on their sale in UK restaurants and their consumption at home, it will inevitably lead to more food poisoning outbreaks.

Yesterday (January 28) Food Standards Agency FSA board members expressed concern about the apparently slow progress in producing new “clearer” ​guidance and advice for local authorities’ (LA’s) enforcement work and consumers about serving rare burgers that – because they are not properly cooked through – could be contaminated with dangerous pathogens, ​such as Shiga toxin producing Escherichia coli​ (STEC) and salmonella.

Members were worried about the lack of clarity regarding checks on interventions in the burger production chain to reduce STEC and other pathogens. This covered both suppliers of beef products for rare meat patties that were supposedly food safe – so-called “source security”​ – and on catering chains that had approved procedures for serving rare burgers.

‘Lack of pace’

“I have to say I am worried about lack of pace,”​ said board member Professor Paul Wiles, who noted the subject of rare burgers had originally been discussed​ by the board back in January 2015. “I am slightly worried that this is taking this kind of time and I would have liked to have seen things move quickly.”

The Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF) also discussed an update covering the FSA’s work on rare burgers, when it met in Norwich today (January 29).

Some of the current advice to consumers will not change, however. That is to cook beef burgers thoroughly at home (for at least two minutes at 70°C) to achieve a 6-log reduction (a pathogen level below one in 1M) of STEC. It also warns them of the potential risks associated with burgers served rare in catering establishments. Children should not eat rare burgers.

Procedures to reduce risk

However, the ACMSF also considered an FSA project which is designed to ensure the safety of meat or minced meat preparations supplied by processors to caterers that serve rare burgers. They need to be aware of – and apply – the appropriate procedures to reduce risk by achieving at least 4-log reduction in STEC.

The project also aims to ensure businesses serving rare burgers implement the correct procedures to reduce risk. Restaurants are expected to have other interventions/controls in place to reduce contamination in the burger sourcing and production chain.

The paper presented to ACMSF stated: “Where this can be clearly demonstrated, then there would no longer be a dependency on cooking to achieve a 6-log reduction to deliver a safe burger in catering outlets.”

While the FSA board was scheduled to receive an update on the project’s progress at its July meeting, with guidance to industry and LAs being available in the autumn of 2016, several members, including Dr Roland Salmon, felt this was too slow.

However, an FSA web-based resource to consolidate existing advice, aimed at caterers, producers and LAs, is expected to be available in March, with consumer messaging for caterers available in April. This will be followed by a consumer campaign about home cooking in July.

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