Rare burgers are still a food safety focus

Minced meat: pubs need to be aware of the rules around cooking burgers

As part of this year’s Food Safety Week (Monday 19 to Sunday 25 June), the Food Standards Agency (FSA) will focus on safe barbecuing, including the thorough cooking of burgers.

The week kicks off the FSA’s year-long season-focused communication activity, promoting good food hygiene behaviours.

‘Safe Summer Eating’ is the aim of Food Safety Week and this theme will continue throughout the summer until the end of August.

During this time, the FSA wants to focus on “chilling” (fridge temperature and defrosting practices) and thorough cooking (cooking mince products properly).

Time and temperature

Though the time and temperature for cooking is not specifically a legal requirement and food businesses can serve burgers that are either pink in the middle and/or are not thoroughly cooked all the way through provided they can demonstrate they have controlled the risks in other ways, according to the FSA.

This can be achieved by:

  • Cooking to a lower temperature for longer, meaning the burgers remain pink but the centre reaches a temperature equivalent to 70°C for two minutes.
  • Searing the outside of meat to destroy contamination prior to mincing meat and forming it in to burger patties.
  • Use of novel techniques including lactic acid in slaughterhouses to reduce surface contamination of meat, use of sous vide cooking, and use of high pressure processing.
  • Putting in place controls throughout the supply chain to reduce and/or minimise contamination of meat, followed by less thorough cooking, but still cooking to a core temperature that can be demonstrated to achieve a significant reduction in pathogens in the final product.  

Earlier this year (1 March), the FSA created and published a list of establishments approved to supply minced meat and meat preparations, which are intended to be eaten less than thoroughly cooked, such as rare burgers.

There are now specific requirements for establishments supplying minced meat and/or meat preparations intended to be eaten less than thoroughly cooked.

FSA guidelines

This is to help catering establishments to identify approved producers of minced meat or meat products which are suitable for use in the production of minced meat items, which are intended to be less than thoroughly cooked.

Under the FSA guidelines, caterers selling less well-cooked burgers need to carry out extensive checks to ensure their supplier is satisfactory.

Minimal cooking means the caterer has to take additional measures to reduce bacteria during the early stages of the production chain such as at the abattoir and meat supplier stage.

Last year (March), a food law expert said warning pub customers about the potential dangers of ordering and eating high-risk foods – such as oysters and rare burgers – is unlikely to be enough of a defence to stave off prosecution in the event of legal action.

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