Rare burgers need food safety management plan

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has agreed that the preparation and service of rare burgers in food outlets is unacceptable unless a validated and verified food safety management plan is in place. 

The FSA board had been asked to consider a range of controls businesses should make sure are in place if they are serving rare burgers. These included sourcing meat only from establishments that have specific controls in place to minimise the risk of contamination of meat intended to be eaten raw or lightly cooked and providing consumer advice on menus regarding the additional risk from burgers which aren’t thoroughly cooked.

At its board meeting earlier this week, it voted to support the new approach but with some requirements, such as businesses need to pre-notify their local authority if they want to serve burgers rare, that reassurances be given on the controls that suppliers of mince intended for consumption rare or lightly cooked in burgers have in place and effective consumer advisory statements on menus where rare burgers are served. The board agreed the FSA should take a lead in ensuring these statements were consistent.

It also suggested that an FSA communications plan is implemented to explain the risks and controls to the public and that infection rates continue to be kept under close review and any changes brought to the attention of the board.

It is hoped that the approach agreed by the board will improve consumer protection by making it clear to businesses the circumstances under which the service of rare burgers is acceptable and the stringent controls that must apply, and supporting local authority enforcement where controls are not in place or are not applied consistently.

In light of the board’s decision, the FSA will continue to develop guidance for local authorities, businesses and consumers while its long-standing advice to consumers that they should cook burgers thoroughly to kill any bugs that may be present is unchanged.

In Scotland, Food Standards Scotland (FSS) has not changed its policy on rare burgers.

In a statement it said: "The steps that businesses are required to take to protect consumers should be through thorough cooking in accordance with current Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF) guidance or through a combination of controls verified by a food business operator that will provide equivalent protection. This would mean that protective measures should not require consumer advice about additional risk as the food operator has a legal obligation to ensure the food is safe to eat.‎ The current FSS view is that the use of consumer information about additional risk would represent a significant departure from current policy aimed at protecting consumers. FSS does not  consider such a change in policy to be in the best interest of consumers in Scotland at this time."

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