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FSAI Warns Food Businesses on Dangers of Serving Undercooked Minced Beef Burgers

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) today reminded caterers and restaurants of the dangers of not cooking minced beef burgers thoroughly to remove harmful bacteria. In Ireland, 3% of raw minced beef is known to be contaminated with a particular harmful type of E. coli (called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli) that can cause kidney failure. Children under five years of age and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to this type of E. coli. The FSAI published an update to its factsheet: Advice for Caterers on Serving Burgers that are Safe to Eat to aid compliance by caterers which aims to ensure that consumers do not fall ill as a result of undercooked minced beef burger products. It advises that minced beef burgers should be temperature tested prior to serving.

The FSAI states that the safety of minced beef burgers is dependent on sufficient cooking to ensure the destruction of harmful pathogens. It recommends that minced beef burgers are cooked to a minimum core (the thickest part of the burger) temperature of 75°C 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.

According to Dr Pamela Byrne, CEO, FSAI during the summer months, minced beef burgers are a highly popular go-to food for many people however, food safety should never be compromised for speed or to cater for trends in consumer taste.

    “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. Food service 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,” said Dr Byrne.

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 factsheet 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 specialised 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.

    “Disclaimers on the menu advising on the dangers of eating undercooked minced beef burgers do not exempt caterers from their obligations under food law to serve only safe food,” Dr Byrne concludes.