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Is a Pink Burger a Food Safety Issue?

Posted by Tracy Seward

A pink burger. Yes please or no thank you? Is food safety a factor in your decision?

The renaissance of the often-maligned burger into a gourmet food has been around for a while now with restaurants, casual dining establishments and gastro pubs being able to compete happily in a different market to the two burger behemoths in the UK.

Some of what differentiates these food serving businesses is that they meet the customer expectation of what a burger ‘should’ look and taste like. So it’s not enough to have a simple burger anymore, there must be a long list of toppings, different types of buns, an array of sauces and most important of all the big question, how would you like your burger cooked? A bit like ordering a steak, rare, medium and well done; or is it?

Well, let’s take a look back to 1993 when Jack in the Box franchisees in the US made more than 600 people ill and led to the deaths of four children. The restaurant chain’s beef supplier had unfortunately been delivering E. coli-contaminated patties, which the restaurants were only cooking to an internal temperature of 140°F or 60°C, the federal requirement at the time. At this internal temperature, it was not enough to kill the bacteria. As you probably guessed new core temperature guidance was issued that raised the cooked burger temperature.

So can you or should you serve a burger rare or should they always be cooked well done? The long-standing advice from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is that burgers should be cooked thoroughly until juices run clear, they are steaming hot and there is no pink inside. Serving a pink burger has an increased risk of microbiological hazards such as E Coli O157 and Haemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS). Cooking the burger to 70˚C for 2 minutes (75 ˚C for 30 seconds) will eliminate these hazards, but when using traditional flame grill methods this may also result in a ‘well done’ appearance.

FSA Guidance

The FSA Board have indicated in a news release & update on their website that rare burgers can be served so long as the following criteria are met:

  • Sourcing of the meat only from establishments which have effective control measures in place to minimise the risk of contamination of meats that are expected to be eaten raw or lightly cooked.
  • Ensuring that the supplier carries out testing of the products to check that the control measures are working.
  • Strict temperature control to prevent the growth of any bugs, and appropriate preparation and cooking procedures, included in a fully verified and validated food safety management procedure.
  • Providing consumer advice on menus warning customers of the additional risk from eating burgers that are not thoroughly cooked.

Businesses wishing to serve undercooked burgers should pre-notify the local authority of their intentions.

Further guidance to confirm these measures is due to be issued by the FSA in the near future.

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