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Crackdown on rare burgers after serious food poisoning incident

The FSAI has warned caterers and food businesses not to serve or offer undercooked minced beef burgers.

Image: Shutterstock/Breaking The Walls

THE FOOD SAFETY Authority of Ireland has warned caterers and food businesses not to serve, offer or advertise undercooked minced beef burgers after a serious food poisoning incident in a catering establishment.

Dr Pamela Byrne, CEO of the FSAI said that while customers may request undercooked or rare minced meat burgers this does not exempt a food business’s duty to sell safe food or protect it from potential prosecution.

“Disclaimers on the menu advising on the dangers of eating undercooked minced beef burgers do not exempt caterers from their obligations under food law to serve only safe food.

We have had people become ill due to a serious food poisoning outbreak associated with undercooked beef burgers in a catering establishment.

“Chefs and caterers must ensure that minced beef burgers are cooked thoroughly before serving and waiting staff should not ask customers how they want their minced beef burgers cooked,” Dr Byrne said.

In Ireland, 3% of raw minced beef is known to be contaminated with a particularly harmful type of E. coli (Shiga toxin-producing E. coli), which can cause kidney failure.

The FSAI has advised that minced beef burgers should be cooked to a minimum core temperature of 75°C.

If a food business was to consider an alternative approach to cooking “rare” burgers then it would have to first scientifically validate the new approach, the FSAI insisted.

“Scientific validation is complex and requires specialised microbiological expertise in order to ensure a robust study is designed. People are at risk of getting sick if alternative cooking methods have not been validated.

“Failure to produce scientific validation to an environmental health officer could leave a food business open to legal action.”

For food businesses that do offer minced beef burgers prepared at lower temperatures, The FSAI said that longer cooking times are required.

Lower temperature-longer time or higher temperature-shorter time combinations would also achieve the same level of pathogen destruction and food safety assurance.

PastedImage-27742 Source: FSAI

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Visual inspection 

Dr Byrne has insisted that food needs to be cooked until piping hot, advice that “should not be taken lightly”, especially for people cooking minced beef burgers at home.

The elderly and children under five are particularly vulnerable to the type of E. coli found in undercooked minced beef.

During mincing and mixing of the meat preparation, pathogens located on the surface are often relocated to the centre of the product, the point which usually receives minimum heat treatment during cooking.

One of the frequently applied indicators of adequate cooking of beef is the colour change from red tissues and pink juices to brown tissues and clear juices, but the FSAI has warned that this is not a reliable method.

Colour changes are not reliable indicators of a beef burger having attained any particular combination of temperature and time.

“Temperature-time combinations are the only objective measurement to ensure that beef burgers are properly cooked.”

About the author:

Adam Daly

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