The Food Standards Agency’s recently announced guidelines for the preparation and service of rare burgers in the hospitality sector were unclear and didn’t safeguard businesses, warned Dr Lisa Ackerley, a food safety advisor to the British Hospitality Association.
“Despite the FSA’s guidelines, we are still in a state of flux,” Ackerley told a Chartered Institute of Environmental Health conference in Nottingham yesterday (20 October).
The FSA published new guidance for the foodservice sector on how to prepare rare burgers and to avoid E. coli contamination last month (September), following an alleged rise in demand.
The rare burger guidelines include: sourcing meat from European Union businesses approved for the supply of minced meat intended to be eaten raw; strict temperature controls to prevent bacterial growth; approved cooking and preparation procedures; notifying the local authority that rare burgers will be prepared on site; and on-menu advice to diners about the risks associated with eating rare burgers.
‘Guidelines are not clear’
“Word on the ground is that the guidelines are not clear on what everybody has to do,” she added.
There were no definitions of what a rare burger was, what a medium to rare burger was or what a well-done burger was, Ackerley claimed. FSA guidance also stipulated that ‘vulnerable groups’ should not eat rare burgers.
“But how do you know who is a vulnerable person?” Ackerley asked. “The elderly might not consider themselves elderly and young people eating out alone for the first time may not class themselves as vulnerable and may not understand the risks associated with eating rare burgers.”
A lack of clarity would inevitably lead most in the sector to “throw caution to the wind” and start cooking and serving rare burgers without putting in place the appropriate measures.
It could be costly for those who attempted to put firmer measures in place to try and ensure diners’ safety, she claimed. “For instance, I’ve heard of some food businesses that have worked with labs, but that is expensive.”
Only ways to be sure
One of the only ways to be sure that businesses were serving safe and legal burgers was to use a thermometer and to cook burgers to a temperature of 75°C for the appropriate amount of time, she conceded.
“I’ve heard of places that have cooked burgers to 75°C and still achieved a pink burger. But, for me, serving rare burgers is definitely not worth the risk because it could cost you an awful lot of money and none of the guidelines would stop you from being prosecuted if anything happened.
“If you had poisoned someone it would have been because you ‘served dangerous food’.”
Following the release of the guidelines, the FSA said the preparation of rare burgers was unacceptable unless a validated and verified food safety management plan was in place.
“This approach agreed by the board will improve consumer protection by making it clear to businesses the circumstances under which the service of rare burgers is acceptable and the stringent controls that must apply.”