Not sure who is worse here: the celebrity chef or the government regulators.
But they’re both wrong on the topic of shiga-toxin producing E. coli in hamburgers.
And both sides are using erroneous information.
I don’t really care what people eat, other than what they feed to their kids, and that accurate information is provided.
A NSW Food Authority spokeswoman said council officers had approached the watchdog in recent months “concerned about the increase in businesses serving rare/undercooked burgers” and potential health risks.
The authority has sent revised “Hamburger Food Safety” guidelines to Environment Health Officers, attached to the state’s 152 councils.
“Mince meat should be cooked right through to the centre,” the instructions say, citing a temperature of 71C.
“No pink should be visible and juices should run clear.”
Color is a lousy indicator, as is juices running clear. The only way to tell if a burger is safe is to use a tip-sensitive digital thermometer.
Regulators, with all their talk of science-based activities, should know better.
The spokeswoman said if businesses wanted to cook using an alternative temperature, “they must be able to demonstrate that their cooking process is safe”. Burger bars that don’t meet the new guidelines face penalties up to $1540 per offence “for the preparation or sale of unsafe food”.
Sydney chef Neil Perry, who plans to open four Burger Project stores this year, cooks his patties to medium — about 60C. But he said the big difference is staff at his outlets grind meat fresh every day, making it safe.
“We can do medium-rare, which is about 55C, but we rarely get asked for that,” he said. “About 10 per cent of orders are for ‘well done’.”
Perry said the food guidelines serve as a “worst-case scenario” safety net.
“Those guidelines from the health department are important because a lot of burger places have their patties supplied by butchers and have already been minced,” he said.
Perry said bacteria starts growing as soon as meat is minced so chefs need to mince and cook on the same day and keep meat refrigerated at the right temperature:
“We grind our patties in store every day.”
Shiga-toxin producing E. coli are generally found on the surface of meat cuts (unless that meat has been needle tenderized). The process of mincing moves the outside to the inside, so rare is risky.
Those dangerous E. coli are also especially infectious, with as few as 10 cells thought to cause illness.