Understanding rare burgers

8 October, 2015
Julia Wilson

Julia Wilson is a Principal Consultant for Acoura.

Julia has been qualified as an Environmental Health Officer for over 20 years, and worked for local authorities before joining Hygiene Audit Systems, which is now part of Acoura.

"My role is very varied from client management to writing policies, dealing with complaints and giving advice.  I also develop new training courses, update existing training materials and create bespoke courses for our clients.

Few dishes have had quite the impact on the UK food market over the past few years as the current trend for rare burgers.  This trend divides food safety professionals and customers alike! But as the trend has grown, so has concern amongst enforcement teams and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) over the safety of rare burgers.

Eating rare burgers does put you at risk and the consequences can be very severe.  Customers might wonder why rare steak is ok to eat, but not rare burgers? Steak is a complete piece of muscle meat, and E. coli 0157 is a surface contaminant, which means that when the outside of a steak is cooked correctly, the pathogens will be killed and the inside will be safe. The difference in a burger however is that the outside and insides are all minced together as one, making it much harder to ensure that E. coli 0157 has been removed, unless by thorough cooking.

E. coli 0157 also has a very low infectious dose - so for example whereas something like salmonella has an infectious dose of around 100000 cells where E. coli 0157 is less than 10.  Symptoms of E. coli 0157 can be very serious, leading to kidney failure, and death - vulnerable groups like children and the elderly are at highest risk of this.

The FSA are prepared to compromise with rare burgers and to allow some premises to serve them if certain conditions are met including a full HACCP plan on condition of accurate signposting as to the risk. The costs of achieving this level of compliance may well mean that some businesses have to stop serving rare burgers, and those looking to start will have to go through a process of education and implementation. The FSA are keen to deter those with limited food safety knowledge producing rare burgers and risking public safety. They hope to limit rare burgers to only the most diligent businesses who are prepared to meet the costs of preparing and serve safe rare burgers.  Acoura consulting can help with this.

It is also worth nothing that the advice for home cooks remains the same – i.e burgers must be cooked thoroughly to kill any pathogenic organisms.

The advice is roughly as follows:

  • Businesses wanting to serve burgers rare pre-notify their local authority
  • Meat intended to be used in rare burgers must be sourced from suppliers that are aware of this and hold the necessary permits to do so.
  • Businesses should have in place effective consumer advisory statements will be required on menus where rare burgers are served
  • Infection rates continue to be kept under close review
  • Restaurants will not be able to sell rare burgers to children

Now that the guidelines are in place, the FSA will be monitoring whether infection rates go down, and take any necessary further steps.

There may be issues with understanding the guidelines completely, but here at Acoura, we are working with our affected clients to ensure that they know what is expected of them. If we can help your business, please get in touch.

To read the complete guidelines, see:

http://www.food.gov.uk/news-updates/news/2015/14419/fsa-board-decision-on-rare-burgers

For more information on how Acoura could help your business comply with the new rare burger FSA regulations, contact us on info@acoura.com

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