The trend in serving and eating undercooked or rare burgers has greatly increased in the past several years within the UK. Various outlets and restaurant chains offer rare or undercooked burgers as an option to their customers. From the 1st March 2017, new regulations came into force, stating that all businesses supplying minced meat products or other meat preparations, which are intended to be served less than thoroughly cooked, now need to acquire approval by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) or by their Local Authority to do so. The new regulations take effect following on from a consultation period by the FSA, and will apply to any business offering anything less than fully cooked burgers. Any food establishment wishing to serve less than thoroughly cooked burgers will now need to obtain verification from their butcher or meat supplier that they are approved. This requirement will be applicable in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Food service businesses should not see this requirement as yet more ‘regulation’ and ‘red tape’, but rather this should be viewed as a positive step, particularly as it will ultimately ensure a higher level of control and consumer protection – particularly from pathogens such as E. coli O157 and Salmonella. Every year there are around 900 recorded cases of E.coli poisoning.
The main reason why undercooking burgers has been traditionally frowned upon is because bacteria tends to be found on the surface of meat. When raw meat is minced, the bacteria prevalent on the surface is then mixed all the way through. This is why up until now the consistent advice from the FSA (with regards to cooking burgers) is to ensure they are thoroughly cooked to the accepted core temperature and time of 70°C for 2 minutes or 75°C for 30 seconds, as advised by the ACMSF (Advisory Committee on Microbiological Safety of Food). This still remains the safest and simplest option. However, the FSA have also acknowledged that “the risk from rare burgers served in catering establishments is not so unacceptable as to justify removing the adult consumer’s right to choose to eat it, provided a validated and verified food safety management is applied”.
What to do if you are serving rare or undercooked burgers
If you are a food service business choosing to sell, or exploring the possibility of serving less than thoroughly cooked burgers, you must ensure that you have a validated and verified Food Safety Management System (FSMS) in place, which includes the FSA control measures summarised below:
- Your meat must be sourced from premises that are approved under EU law to supply minced meat intended to be eaten uncooked or lightly cooked
- Your meat supplier needs to have sampling and testing systems in place that will identify pathogens including Salmonella and E. coli O157
- Businesses must identify how the burgers would be prepared and cooked, i.e. how the minced meat would be cooked to reduce the possibility of 100,000 E. coli to a maximum of 10 E. coli after cooking. • Stringent temperature control to prevent the growth of bacteria along with safe and hygienic storage, preparation and cooking procedures, must be in place and followed.
- Evidence that cooking times and temperatures have been monitored correctly and recorded accurately.
- Provide clear and unambiguous consumer advice on menus, which lay out the additional risk from burgers which are not thoroughly cooked.
- The FSA still maintain that children and other vulnerable people such as the elderly or pregnant women should only be served burgers that are thoroughly cooked.
Slower cooking methods
It is perfectly acceptable to cook burgers at lower temperatures. The general principle is that when you cook at lower temperatures you must extend the cooking time in order to reduce the risk of pathogens surviving. Here are some tested examples of temperatures and cooking times for low temperature cooking:
60°C for 93 minutes
65°C for 14 minutes
Bear in mind that a lot depends on the size and thickness of the burger, but based on current data, the above temperatures, if applied to their corresponding length of time, will reduce the numbers of vegetative pathogens to safe levels. It is worth remembering that some thermotolerant bacteria may grow at marginal cooking temperatures. For example, when slow cooking a product that may contain Clostridium Perfringens at temperatures of 52ºC or below, this introduces the risk of this organism multiplying to levels that would constitute a risk to the consumer.
When monitoring temperatures, always ensure you use a calibrated and disinfected temperature probe. Always check that when taking the temperature the tip of the probe is in the very centre of the burger. Many times we observe chefs probing food where the tip of the probe is touching the tray, not the core of the product.
If you are a food business serving, or looking to serve rare burgers, and would like to talk to someone about the new regulations or would like some advice, please contact CaterSafe today.