The BHA said while it recognised that medium and medium rare burgers cooked in uncontrolled conditions may be unsafe and only safe food should be sold in accordance with the law, the concerns raised in the show focused solely on the colour of burgers and said little about what businesses were doing to make them safe.
Dr Lisa Ackerley, food safety expert at the BHA, said: “There are a number of controls that businesses can use, and are using, to ensure that their burgers are safe. It would be unwise therefore to assume that all rare burgers are unsafe because this is not the case.”
Time and temperature controls such as measuring the temperature at the centre of the burger would provide a microbiologically safe product that was still pink in the centre – in line with government guidance, the BHA said.
It pointed to the fact that many operators were using methods including sous vide cooking to pasteurize burgers before cooking on a griddle – producing a pink burger that is still safe.
An operations manager for a large bar and restaurant chain, who declined to be named, previously told the Publican’s Morning Advertiser: “Most chefs in the pub and restaurant trade are very knowledgeable about preparing safe rare burgers.
“We make sure to sear the steaks we use for our mince on all sides before making burgers, which ensures any potentially unsafe bugs are destroyed.”
The issue of ensuring safety when serving rare burgers was made the focus of controversy when the Food Standards Agency (FSA) introduced new controls for businesses that wished to serve rare burgers.
These including strict temperature controls, approved cooking and prep procedures and notifying the local authority that rare burgers will be served and prepared on sight.
The FSA said it would like businesses to display advisory notice warnings for customers of the potential dangers of eating undercooked burgers – specifically for young, elderly and pregnant diners.
However, the BHA said to do this would be ‘counter-intuitive’ for companies that had already made efforts to ensure food safety.
Displaying such warnings is not mandatory, although discussions are currently in progress between the FSA and the hospitality industry.
A recent poll of PMA readers reported that 71% thought serving rare burgers was not worth the food safety hassle.