Rare burger pattie trend has potential for food safety meltdown

Jon Condon, 03/02/2017

beef burger rare 3


WOULD the typical Australian eat a hamburger beef pattie as rare as this one?

The simple answer is, probably not – but nevertheless there is a clear trend emerging in the food service restaurant sector towards serving beef patties pink, or even red inside.

There’s been a long-held tradition in the US towards serving rare beef patties off the barbecue, but equally, the US records far higher episodes of food safety breakdowns caused by e.coli and related sickness caused by the practise.

It’s one of the primary reasons why there are dozens, if not hundreds of food safety-related beef recalls in the US beef industry each year, some involving tonnes of product, due to e.coli contamination found in samples.

Evidence suggests such contamination is far less likely in Australian beef due to our processing hygiene standards, but that in itself is no cause for complacency.

The national Food Safety Information Council places minced beef products like patties and sausages, and other ‘re-constructed’ red meat items like rolled roasts into a higher-risk category.

All require cooking to 75 degrees Celsius, at the core, the council recommends.

“The degree of pinkness in a pattie can be hard to judge,” the council’s Lydia Buchtmann says. “That’s why we really recommend that consumers use food thermometers, which are now cheap and easily accessible.”

Foodie trend being blamed

The relentless ‘foodie’ movement being seen across Australia, with its quest for new and innovative methods of food preparation, is probably to blame for the rare burger trend, Beef Central’s inquiries into the topic found.

Higher-end burger restaurants have been identified as Australia’s ground zero in the current trend towards ‘degree of doneness’ in burger patties, Meat & Livestock Australia suggested.

Some of the nation’s best known celebrity chefs, and up-market value-added pattie manufacturers have recently endorsed cooking patties to medium rare.

Last year, the NSW Food Authority threatened chefs with $1540 fines for not cooking hamburgers thoroughly. Earlier, the authority’s inspectors expressed concerns over undercooked patties found in food service outlets, leading to new state guidelines that any mince should be cooked until there is no visible pinkness.

“When minced patties are not cooked properly they can cause food poisoning. While pink patties are a recent food trend, contracting E. coli is a real risk,” the authority said.

The revised guidelines followed a rise in support for rare gourmet burgers from some of Australia’s best known chefs, including Rockpool’s Neil Perry, and former two-hat chef Warren Turnbull whose respective Burger Project and Chur Burger chains serve patties cooked to medium.

Prominent Australian actor, Les Hill now has a business called Hillburger, producing a line of premium burgers for food service use. His suggestion:  “It should cooked medium rare — anything else, you lose the taste.”

After the NSW authority published its burger safety fact sheet last year, burger fans attacked the food safety authority, describing it as another example of the “nanny state stealing our life-choices.”

Neil Perry apparently successfully argued his restaurant’s case, claiming the fact that his beef was ‘freshly ground’ daily on-site removed much of the e.coli contamination risk. While that may be true, the overwhelming majority of ground beef used in food service and retail/home use application in Australia is not ground to order.

One concern is that as is commonly seen, trends in the food sector often quickly filter down into retail and home consumption.

“We’re worried that if a consumer tries a rare beef pattie in a trendy restaurant or burger bar somewhere, next they want to try it at home,” the Food Safety Information Council’s Lydia Buchtmann said. “It greatly extends the risk.”

Ms Buchtmann said the council had seen recent references to rare beef patties from food writers, and had also fielded inquiries about safety of rare patties from consumers after sampling them during visits overseas.

“People are influenced by what they see and eat during visits to the US, for example, where rare patties are more common,” she said.

“They also see recipes and articles online, and want to try new things. It enlarges the risk of food safety being compromised. It’s easy for them to assume that it’s OK for them to cook like this at home.”

Ms Buchtmann said while food poisoning could come from a wide variety of sources (undercooked egg and chicken were primary culprits), consumers should always assume that red meat patties and chicken were contaminated, and needed to be cooked to a core temperature of 75C.

“With whole muscle meat, like a steak or roast, cooking the outside to that temperature is fine, killing bacteria on the surface. But once it’s minced, it’s a different thing – potentially introducing that surface bacteria all the way through the product,” she said.




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  1. Anthony Bell, 06/02/2017

    Never forget the Jack-in-the-Box burger chain incident in the US in the early 1990s, when children died as a result of pathogens in beef patties. It was headlines for weeks, and scarred the US industry for a decade.

  2. John Cooper, 05/02/2017

    There should be a little more knowledge passed on to the critics of med rare beef choices. There is no doubt that years ago we suffered from possible ingester contamination but with higher hygiene standards on the kill floor that is now not such a problem. The real point is that if internal muscle meat is used in mince there is very little chance of contamination,How about Beef carpacio ? Restaurants serving this would be mincing their own to be sure it is fresh and safe

  3. John Brittain, 05/02/2017

    800 to 1000 burgers a year, Jimmy????!!!

    That’s getting up towards three burgers a day, seven days a week! If it’s true, you would have to stand, unchallenged, as easily the biggest consumer of burgers in Australia. As an Aussie beef producer, we salute you, but does your diet consist of anything else, I wonder?
    Also its worthwhile remembering to be careful with statistics. In the great majority of cases, the source of the contamination in reported US food pathogen-related illness is not identified.

  4. Jimmy Hurlston, 04/02/2017

    While I completely understand the need to protect the everyday consumer from making “poor quality” or beef with a much higher potential for e.coli contamination. The number of recorded cases quoted in by the NSW Food Authority showed you had more chance of dying by being hit on the head by a falling bird than eating contaminated beef.
    They quote 1 death in 2015, the first recorded death since 1993. The USA is a country that consumes approximately 50 billion hamburgers per year. That is 1 death in 50 Billion. Not sold? 13 people were hospitalised because of ground beef. Again 13 out of 50 Billion… Essentially you have more chance of choking on your own hair than falling ill or dying from eating raw beef.
    I personally eat between 800 and 1000 burgers per year. Most of which have pink in the middle. I have never fallen ill from eating said burgers.
    Australian restaurants take a great deal more pride in the beef they serve as they should. Australia has the best beef in the world and we should be proud of it.
    Don’t stop the pink.

  5. Richard Rains, 04/02/2017

    Interesting article. Sooo the seafood industry can provide ‘raw fish’ for Sashimi/Sushi, yet we get nervous about serving a ‘medium/rare cooked’ hamburger & its ‘The Foodies’ fault!!!! No food is sterile & everyone should be aware of that BUT let the consumers make their own choices & stop blaming ‘everyone else’.

  6. Carlos Carmona, 03/02/2017

    Unfortunately it is the fault of the foodies. The bigger companies like McDonalds and Wendy’s and others have timers so their crew doesn’t cook it rare. In fact you can hear the buzzer sound when the batch of burgers being cooked in the griddle are cooked and ready to be served.

  7. david mcilroy, 03/02/2017

    cook it that it is grey inside 4 sure?

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