The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has released details of new regulations which come into force tomorrow stating that all businesses serving minced meat products, such as burgers, must obtain specific approval to serve them anything less than thoroughly cooked.
The new regulations take effect following a consultation period by the agency and also apply to caterers selling less well-cooked burgers. Any restaurants wishing to serve less than thoroughly cooked burgers will need to seek verification from their meat supplier that they are approved either by the FSA or their local authority.
Bacteria, like E. coli, tend to be found on the outside surfaces of meat, and if you mince up meat, for a burger, for example, the outside surfaces are then mixed up with bacteria inside and this means that any E. coli from the outside could be mixed all the way through.
Longstanding FSA advice is that the safest approach to cooking burgers is to ensure that they are cooked thoroughly all the way through – in catering settings time and temperature combinations are advised in a report by a committee called the Advisory Committee on Mircrobiological Safety of Food (ACMSF)
The report suggests that cooking at 70°C for two minutes at the centre of the meat or 75°C for 30 seconds would be sufficient to achieve the required reduction of pathogens, reducing an estimated 10 million bacteria to start with, down to just 10 after cooking.
The British Hospitality Association (BHA) which has released a guide to accompany these new regulations, said: “Our advice is first think very carefully about whether there is a demand for rare burgers in your business – the route to a rare burger could be costly, and whilst at the BHA we are working on making an approved system for members, this may take some time.
If you want to serve rare burgers, the FSA says it is unacceptable unless a “validated and verified food safety management plan is applied that combines the following steps”:
• Your meat must be sourced from premises that are approved under EU law to supply minced meat intended to be eaten raw or lightly cooked
• The supplier needs to have sampling and testing regimes that would identify pathogens including Salmonella and E. coli O157
• The FSA also insists that businesses must identify how the burgers would be prepared and cooked, ie. how the minced meat would be cooked to reduce the possibility of 10 million E. Coli to only a maximum of 10 E. Coli after cooking (6-log10) – this would probably need to be assessed in a laboratory as well as in practice, and could be expensive
• Methods such as sear and shave (which have been used by some caterers) where the outside of a large piece of meat is heat-treated and then that part shaved off, and the rest is then treated as virtually “ready-to-eat” and kept free of contamination may not work in small kitchens and may even introduce cross-contamination hazards.
• Evidence that cooking times and temperatures have been monitored accurately
The cheapest and simplest route, according to the BHA, is to follow the temperatures set out by the ACMSF to achieve 70°C for two minutes or 75°C for 30 seconds and to experiment with cooking techniques to get the best quality out of your burger at these temperatures – flipping, slower cooking, covering whilst cooking etc. Cooking burgers at lower temperatures requires longer cooking, for example – burgers cooked at 65°C need to be held for 13.6 minutes, at 60°C, for 93 minutes.
This new requirement will be applicable in England, Wales and Northern Ireland with different regulations for Scotland. Local authorities have been advised that poor understanding of the potential hazards and failure to follow validated food safety management procedures will result in potential action such as notices or prosecution.
For more information visit: Q&A on Medium and Rare Burgers
Or Approved meat products, minced meat and meat preparation establishments
Videos from The Caterer archives