Poison customers, it’s good for business: Burger row hits the grills in New Zealand; try a thermometer

New Zealand’s oldest licensed premises has pulled a burger that’s been the cornerstone of its menu – blaming it on bureaucratic red tape gone mad.

Dan Fraser, executive chef at the Duke of Marlborough restaurant in the Bay of Islands, was left stewing after a visit from a Ministry of Primary Industries inspector on Thursday. 

Nicole Lawton of The Sunday Star Times reports new food preparation guidelines from MPI state minced meat and liver needs to be cooked at high temperatures for a longer amount of time than previously, to avoid contamination. 

Fraser said the new rules were a raw deal and will now prevent him serving his signature burger The Governor’s Burger which is pink and juicy in the middle. 

The Governor’s Burger features bacon, cheese, pickle, tomato, chipotle mayonnaise and a medium rare beef mince patty.

“It’s a really good burger, we really pride ourselves in presenting it to our customers,” Fraser said.

“Basically, the ministry is telling us how our customers need to eat their food.”

MPI food and beverage manager Sally Johnston, said the new rules didn’t entirely ban medium-rare meat – but chefs would have to change how they cooked it.

“If they do want to serve a medium-rare burger, it is possible, it just might take a little more forethought and planning,” Johnston said.

“It is possible to cook a medium-rare burger safely, it just means that they need to think about the processes that they are using to do that. It might not be necessarily possible to do that on a BBQ or grill.”

She suggest sous vide methods of cooking instead – what people used to call boil-in-the-bag.

“Who the f*** wants a sous vide burger?”, Fraser said.

The new rules state meat should have an internal minimum temperature of 65°C for 15 minutes while cooked, 70°C for three minutes, or 75°C for 30 seconds.

But Fraser said those were rules drawn up by a bureaucrat and not a chef. They meant a beef mince patty would always be “rubbery and devoid of flavour”.

Johnston insists the new rules are necessary. “People have died from under cooked burgers, there is a genuine food safety risk here, we’re not doing this to take the fun out of food. Bugs that have caused people to die (such as E. coli) are frequently found in New Zealand meat.”

The new MPI guidelines detail how restaurants and food businesses should prepare, store and serve their food, and supplement the 2014 Food Act. 

Top chef Ray McVinnie told Stuff NZ that serving a medium-rare burger is “dangerous and dumb” and that any chef who complains about such regulations does not understand basic food safety.

Yesterday, the Ministry for Primary Industries decided they will be talking to chefs about ways they can serve medium rare burgers and still keep food safe for consumers.

“We’re happy to work with chefs wanting to develop a custom Food Control Plan that covers their specific menu items. It might need different methods of sourcing, storing, and handling meat to make sure consumers are still protected.”

The move by MPI to regulate chefs’ kitchens brought howls of outrage and ridicule from those interviewed by the NZ Herald.

Labour’s Damien O’Connor said it was “ridiculous overkill”.

“We’ve got strict controls on how you kill and process meat. To then look at the cooking of it is nanny-state gone mad.

Northland MP Winston Peters, who has eaten at the Duke of Marlborough often over the years, said “paternalistic bureaucrats” were killing New Zealand businesses.

Sick customers ruin biz.

I look forward to the microbiologically-based arguments the talking heads will bring to the public discussion.

Assessment of risk communication about undercooked hamburgers by restaurant servers

Ellen M. Thomas, RTI International; Andrew Binder, Anne McLaughlin, Lee-Ann Jaykus, Dana Hanson, and Benjamin Chapman, North Carolina State University; and Doug Powell, powellfoodsafety.com

Journal of Food Protection

DOI: 10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-16-065

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration 2013 Model Food Code, it is the duty of a food establishment to disclose and remind consumers of risk when ordering undercooked food such as ground beef. The purpose of this study was to explore actual risk communication activities of food establishment servers. Secret shoppers visited restaurants (n=265) in seven geographic locations across the U.S., ordered medium rare burgers, and collected and coded risk information from chain and independent restaurant menus and from server responses. The majority of servers reported an unreliable method of doneness (77%) or other incorrect information (66%) related to burger doneness and safety. These results indicate major gaps in server knowledge and risk communication, and the current risk communication language in the Model Food Code does not sufficiently fill these gaps. Furthermore, should servers even be acting as risk communicators? There are numerous challenges associated with this practice including high turnover rates, limited education, and the high stress environment based on pleasing a customer. If it is determined that servers should be risk communicators, food establishment staff should be adequately equipped with consumer advisory messages that are accurate, audience-appropriate, and delivered in a professional manner so as to help their customers make more informed food safety decisions.

Rare hamburgers are (not) safe, tasty and disgusting

What once was deemed unfit for human consumption now is considered a delicacy.

rare.hamburgerLes MacPherson of The StarPhoenix says restaurants in Saskatoon (that’s in Canada) are now offering rare hamburgers as a feature entree. They can get away with this by grinding their beef on the premises, just before it is served. E. coli thus does not have time to colonize the larger surface area exposed by grinding. At these establishments, you can order and safely consume a burger scorched on the outside and raw on the inside, like a big, juicy steak.

No. This is just more food porn that ignores biology.

Ellen Thomas: Thermometers only way to know a burger is safe

Ellen Thomas, a PhD student in food science at North Carolina State University who enjoys running, baking, and playing the violin, writes:

I’ve ordered a crazy number of burgers over the past year. This isn’t because I constantly crave red meat, I’m just interested in what restaurant servers say about eating undercooked burgers.

An E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, which sickened 11 people in 4 different states, has been linked to undercooked burgers at restaurants. Over 1.8 million pounds of ground beef have been recalled.

hamburger.thermometerThe FDA Food Code, adopted in some form by most states, says that it is the duty of the restaurant to disclose risk information around consuming undercooked hamburgers and remind people when they order. Sometimes this is included on the menu, sometimes the servers engage patrons. However, there is no data about whether this actually occurs.

To capture this data, I’ve trained a legion of secret shoppers to order burgers cooked medium rare, and record the risk information provided on menus and by servers.

It’s been an enlightening process.

A lot of servers talk about color, some talk about temperature, others talk about the firmness of the burger.

There have been numerous situations where a server simply says, “the cook just knows what they’re doing.” A lot of servers assure the secret shoppers that eating a medium rare burger is perfectly safe.

And some responses have been shocking like the server who volunteered, “You’ll be fine eating it medium rare- my sister ate a burger that was raw in the middle when she was pregnant and she was just fine.”

rare.hamburgerUnfortunately, misinformation about cooking burgers is widespread. When interviewed by 22News following the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, Joe Igner, owner of Local Burger in Northampton, Massachusetts, said that he “never had a problem with E. coli” because “it’s recommended to cook ground beef at least 4 minutes and up to 7 minutes on each side.” Nowhere did Igner mention thermometer use. He also stated, “We don’t get it from a processing plant and that’s a big difference because when they process, they process beef and turkey and if they don’t change the blades, that’s when somebody’s going to get sick.”

This is simply not true. Contamination can occur at any point when processing, handling, and preparing raw ground beef, including in a restaurant kitchen, even if it is ground in house.

Sydney Lupkin of ABC writes, So how do you know if your hamburger’s safe? It’s not as simple as you think.

“With ground beef, color is not a reliable indicator of doneness,” said Marianne Graveley, a specialist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s meat and poultry hotline.

Meat that’s still pink may be well-done, Graveley said, and meat that’s brown may need more heat.

“We used to have different campaign: It’s done when it’s brown in middle,” she said. “Now we say to use a meat thermometer. It’s the only way to know that it’s safe.”

USDA recommends that hamburgers be cooked to at least 160 degrees internally. But it’s no secret that few of us take the temperature of our patties, and many of us prefer them rare.

“We would never recommend that,” Graveley said. “The risk of food poisoning is too great. People have gotten very sick from very small amount of food. We just don’t think it’s worth the risk.”

hamburger-safe and unsafe-thumb-450x138-175The server response that sticks with me the most is, “I’m just a server- I don’t know what the cooks do.” This may seem like a reasonable statement; servers are usually tending to numerous tables in a very high-paced environment and only pass through the kitchen to pick up dishes.

When digging into the current outbreak, it’s curious to think whether illnesses have occurred had risks been effectively communicated to consumers. What I’m trying to figure out is how much do servers play a role in advising consumers of their food choices?

Ordering all of these burgers shows me that there are gaps between what happens in a kitchen and what a server tells restaurant patrons. As the server is typically the liaison between the kitchen and the consumer, these gaps mark crucial points where risk information could occur and it is not happening.

London restaurant fights council over rare hamburger complaint

I don’t know what a rare hamburger is. When asked how I would like a burger, I say thermometer-verified 165F. I’m met with blank stares, which I return: rare is a subjective value with little meaning.

The city council of Westminster — which includes many of the important cultural districts in the West End — served notice against London restaurant Davy’s over how they were serving their £13.95 burger. The council’s food health and safety manager commented, “It is possible to produce burgers that can be eaten undercooked, but strict controls are essential.”

Huffington Post reports Davy’s has appealed the notice to the High Court, and their decision could set a precedent for how rare and medium rare burgers are regulated going forward.

The rare burger controversy in Westminster follows several months of controversy in England over the risks posed by rare and medium-rare beef. One major UK burger chain recently committed to ending the sale of rare and medium-rare burgers, while another was hit with penalties for serving undercooked burgers

Cook steaks to 120 F, 160 or 170 , not to bloody, red or pink

Chef Ramsey’s kitchen rage is topped only by Donald Trump’s hair, rants, and famous line “you are fired.”

The final challenge on Ramsey’s latest show was to determine which of two chefs stays one more week by cooking three steaks each, one rare, one medium, and one well done. As one of the chefs uses a tip sensitive digital thermometer to check temperatures, Chef Graham Elliot comments something along these lines – every time he uses the thermometer, he lets those juices flow out.

According to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, medium steaks should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160º F, well done 170º F and rare is not listed, but it’s usually around 120º-125º F (no one really knows). Four out of the six steaks looked pretty much the same (right, exactly as shown), so we’ll never know what the temperatures were.

When I ask for my steak to be rare, get it to at least 120º F and don’t even think about using the cheek or hand tests.

I’ll take my hamburger at 160F, verified with a thermometer

Food safety has never been Mark Bittman’s strong point. But food porn triumphs, so who cares if a few people barf.

In the on-going saga of demonstrating that most so-called chefs are food safety morons, Bittman, a columnist with the N.Y. Times who apparently has a new book out, blogged about his experience ordering a burger in Toronto (that’s in Canada) the other night night, where he said to the staff,

“I begged the waitress for a really rare burger and she said, “When you ask for rare they make it medium rare,” and I said, "I know, that’s how it often is, and though I’d prefer it rare I don’t mind it medium rare, but if it’s medium I’m going to be unhappy," and she said, "Then you’ll be very happy." And it came out well done. And I wasn’t unhappy at all, I just didn’t eat much of it. I ate fries and roasted beets."

Bittman has also said in the past that "if you grind your own beef, you can make a mixture and taste it raw," adding that, "To reassure the queasy, there’s little difference, safety-wise, between raw beef and rare beef: salmonella is killed at 160 degrees, and rare beef is cooked to 125 degrees."

This is food safety idiocracy. Any food safety advice in Bittman’s book should be disregarded as fantasy.

Make my turkey burger rare – just kidding

A long-time barfblog.com reader — first-time commenter — writes in with the following restaurant experience from Olathe, Kansas:

I literally just got home from one of my favorite casual dining restaurants here in Olathe. I ordered my favorite sandwich — the Avocado Turkey Burger. The server took my order first as my girlfriend was still deciding what to order. She ordered a different turkey burger (copy cat). As the server wrote her order down I jokingly called my girlfriend a "Copy Cat" out loud at the table for ordering the same (almost the same) sandwich. So to be different, I told the server "Hey, can I get my turkey burger medium rare"….she said "sure no problem sir", took her pad back out, wrote it down and walked off. I called her back to the table to explain I was just joking and that turkey had to be cooked "all the way."

She just stared at me, then the light went off in her head…."oh, ya, I knew that."

I was afraid to eat…but I did and it was still tasty as usual.

On the drive home all I could think about was this could totally have been a story I read on barfblog.com with some picture of bloody rare turkey or something — or not.

Ask your server to stick it in.