In a July 31st notice, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) warned restaurants and other foodservice establishments about the dangers of not properly cooking minced beef burgers.
According to FSAI, 3 percent of raw minced beef is known to be contaminated with a particularly harmful type of Escherichia coli (called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli) that can cause kidney failure. Children under 5 years of age and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to this type of E. coli.
To help restaurants and caterers to serve safer burgers and to keep consumers from contracting a foodborne illness, FSAI published an updated fact sheet entitled Advice for Caterers on Serving Burgers that are Safe to Eat. The fact sheet advises that minced beef burgers should be temperature tested prior to serving.
FSAI says that in order for minced beef burgers to be served safely, they must be sufficiently cooked in order to destroy harmful pathogens. The agency recommends cooking burgers to a minimum temperature of 75°C--measured at the thickest part of the burger--before serving. For those food businesses wishing to offer minced beef burgers prepared at lower temperatures, longer cooking times are required. The temperature and time combinations equivalent to 75°C have been recommended by the FSAI’s Scientific Committee.
In part, a statement from FSAI’s CEO, Dr. Pamela Byrne, reads:
“There should be no compromise on food safety. We have had people become ill due to a serious food poisoning outbreak associated with undercooked beef burgers in a catering establishment. Chefs and caterers must ensure that minced beef burgers are cooked thoroughly before serving and waiting staff should not ask customers how they want their minced beef burgers cooked. Foodservice businesses must have a food safety management system in place which identifies the hazards and outlines the critical control points to ensure food safety. Cooking food to the correct temperature is the critical control point for serving safe minced beef burgers. Regular checks should be carried out on the core temperature of minced beef burgers using a probe thermometer, as colour alone is not a reliable indicator. Consumers also need to ensure that when they are cooking minced beef burgers at home, that they are cooked until they are piping hot all the way through. Given the serious health risks associated with consuming undercooked minced beef burgers, this advice should not be taken lightly,”
The FSAI states that:
- Minced beef burgers must be fully cooked to ensure they are safe to eat
- Minced beef burgers should be cooked to a temperature of 75°C tested at the thickest part of the burger by a food thermometer or to one of the equivalent temperature time combinations outlined in its factsheet
- Caterers should not serve, offer or advertise undercooked or ‘pink’ minced beef burgers
- Failure to serve minced beef burgers that are safe to eat can make people seriously ill and place a food business open to legal action
The FSAI’s fact sheet was updated following the publication of the FSAI’s Scientific Committee report, which outlines a trend to serve undercooked minced beef burgers and a corresponding risk of food poisoning. It highlights the risk of deviation from validated thorough cooking time and temperature combinations. It explains that if a food business was to consider an alternative approach, then it would have to first scientifically validate the new approach. Scientific validation is complex and requires specialized microbiological expertise in order to ensure a robust study is designed. People are at risk of getting sick if alternative cooking methods have not been validated. Failure to produce scientific validation to an environmental health officer could leave a food business open to legal action.
The FSAI understands that customers may request undercooked or rare minced meat burgers, but this does not exempt a food business’s duty to sell safe food or protect it from potential prosecution. According to Dr. Byrne, even menu disclaimers do not exempt foodservice establishments from their obligation to follow food safety laws and serve only safely prepared food.