UK decides to keep burger cooking standard

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags E. coli Foodborne illness Escherichia coli Hamburger

The UK food safety regulator will to stick with its temperature and
time guidance for cooking burgers and other minced meat products.

The UK advice for cooking burgers at 70ºC for two minutes was reviewed by a Food Standards Agency (FSA) advisory committee due to a complaint from a US fast food restaurant. The restaurant said the cooking advice was too stringent and reduced the meat's quality.

Even though it decided to keep the UK standard, the FSA advisory committee allowed room for some flexibility in its report issued yesterday on cooking temperatures and times.

"The advice for safe cooking of burgers should remain at 70ºC for 2 minutes, or equivalent,"​ the advisory committee stated. "However, consideration could be given to use of lower time/temperature combinations where producers can demonstrate the safety of their products using risk assessment approaches with associated effective process control."

The guidance applies to consumers, processors retailers, caterers and suppliers to caterers. It covers burgers, sausages and other products made from minced meats, a major source of food borne disease outbreaks worldwide.

The FSA said the review was sparked when in June 2004 after an unnamed US fast food restaurant chain made a submission that the UK recommended time and temperature conditions were more stringent than was necessary and that these conditions led to overcooking and deterioration in the quality of some products.

The FSA asked the independent advisory committee to review its current advice on the safe cooking of burgers and similar minced beef products due to the differences between the recommended cooking conditions in the UK and the US.

Requirements for the cooking of ground beef issued by the

US Food and Drug administration (FDA) requirements specify that ground beef products should be cooked to an internal temperature of 66ºC for one minute, 68ºC for 15 sec, or 70ºC for less than one second. The US Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service recommends that consumers use a thermometer to ensure that ground beef is cooked to 71ºC.

Improperly cooked burgers have resulted in food poisonings due to the presence of E. coli O157, and other key pathogens. The committee reviewed the guidance and cooking conditions for burgers used in the US, UK and other countries. The group also reviewed published scientific evidence and information submitted by the UK meat processing industry.

The US fast food restaurant chain also submitted data on the controls used to ensure the safety of burgers from raw materials through to cooking.

It also provided data showing that that E. coli O157 outbreaks associated with large fast-food restaurants had not occurred in the US over the preceding 13 years.

The FSA committee is calling for comments on the draft report and its recommendations. A summary of responses and a final report will be issued by the end of the year.

An important consideration in the safe cooking of burgers is the emergence of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) as a human pathogen.

In 1982 the investigation of outbreaks of STEC O157 in different parts of the US demonstrated an association with the consumption of burgers.

In Canada the connection between STEC infection and the development of haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), one of the most severe clinical consequences, was identified during the early '80s.

Raw and improperly handled or cooked sausages and burgers can harbour E. coli O157, Salmonella and Campylobacter.

E. coli O157 infections can result in bloody diarrhoea and, occasionally, kidney failure. Infants and young children are at particular risk from an E. coli O157 infection.

The predominant pathogen in the UK is STEC O157. STEC infection rates in Scotland are generally higher than those reported in the rest of the UK.

Although a variety of foods have been implicated in foodborne outbreaks of STEC, foods of bovine origin continue to dominate the picture, the FSA stated.

In the UK unpasteurised milk is commonly implicated in foodborne outbreaks of STEC.

Where red meat has been implicated the problem has tended to relate to crosscontamination of cooked meats from raw meats in butchers' shops, according to studies.

In a recently published review of outbreaks in the US, 52 per cent of outbreaks over a 20-year period were foodborne, amongst which ground beef was implicated as a food vehicle in 41 per cent of the outbreaks.

In a draft risk assessment of the public health impact in the US of E. coli O157 in ground beef, scientists estimated that on average 0.018 per cent of servings consumed between June and September and 0.007 per cent of servings consumed during the rest of the year are contaminated with one or more E. coli O157:H7 cells.

This equates to nearly one illness in each one million servings of ground beef consumed, the scientists estimated.

Meat and poultry products cooked in official establishments in the US are subject to specified legislative requirements.

Fully cooked beef patties must meet the following temperature/time requirements: 66.1°C (151°F) for 41 seconds, 66.7°C (152°F) for 32seconds, 67.2°C (153°F) for 26 seconds, 67.8°C (154°F) for 20 seconds, 68.3°C (155°F) for 16 seconds, 68.9°C (156°F) for 13 seconds and 69.4°C (157°F) for 10 seconds.

In contrast no temperature or time requirements are specified for cooked beef, roast beef and cooked corned beef products.

The requirements specify that a process must be applied to ensure that a legislated reduction of Salmonella or a process that achieves an equivalent probability that no viable Salmonella organisms remain in the finished product.

Similar requirements exist for fully cooked poultry products, the report stated.

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