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Food safety

Rare burger risk warnings ‘not enough to save you in court’

By Nicholas Robinson+

21-Mar-2016
Last updated on 21-Mar-2016 at 12:06 GMT2016-03-21T12:06:39Z

Labelling rare burger risks on menus may not be enough, warns expert
Labelling rare burger risks on menus may not be enough, warns expert

Warning pub customers about the potential dangers of ordering and eating high-risk foods – such as oysters and rare burgers – is unlikely to be enough of a defence to stave off prosecution in the event of legal action.

That's according to a leading food law expert who told delegates at last week's Institute of Food Safety Integrity and Protection's food law in practice conference in London that current guidance around serving risky foods was unlikely to be strong enough to defend them in the event of a lawsuit.

An operator's main defence in the event of a food poisoning outbreak on their premises would be due diligence, which would show the site did all it could to prepare and serve safe and legal food.

Businesses serving rare burgers were advised by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) last year to display menu advice to consumers to explain the risks of eating rare burgers.

'Proof of due diligence?'

The legal expert, who could not be named because of reporting restrictions, queried whether consumer advice could assist [an operator] with proof of due diligence.

"I don't think that it can," he said. "I don't see how informing a consumer bolsters a due diligence defence."

How consumers value such information and use it to make a choice – since they may not be able to weigh up the risks – was questionable, he added.

"You [an operator] don't have any control [over food safety] by putting the warning on the menu. If you tell a customer that a drink is hot and can scold you then that makes sense to them, but they can't quantify the risk of something like this."

FSA guidance

The FSA guidance was issued in October after the food safety authority recognised there was increasing consumer demand for rare burgers.

The guidelines advised operators to source meat from European Union businesses approved for the supply of minced meat intended to be eaten raw; to enforce strict temperature controls to prevent bacterial growth; to have approved cooking and preparation procedures; to notify the local authority rare burgers are being prepared on the site; and on-menu advice to diners about the risks associated with eating rare burgers.

This month, the FSA called for industry views on the guidelines, the consultation period for which will close on 31 March.

Other experts have warned operators that serving rare burgers was not worth the risk, even if they followed the FSA's guidance.

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