FSA finds Brits not up to the mark on best burger practices

A survey of about 2,700 British adults has found that while 71 percent of them said they were concerned about food poisoning, 36 percent would still eat a burger that wasn’t completely cooked. According to the survey results, released Aug. 25 by the U.K. Food Standards Agency (FSA), more than one in 10 of the respondents said they actually prefer their burgers somewhat undercooked and 81 percent of them admitted to undercooking burgers at home. rare.hamburgerMost alarming to FSA officials was that respondents seemed to believe all red meats, whether ground or not, are equally safe. Nearly a third of them (32 percent) “incorrectly believe that eating a rare burger is the same as a rare steak when it comes to food poisoning risk.” “It’s important that people realize that burgers are not like steak,” said Steve Wearne, FSA’s policy director. “Harmful bacteria can be carried on the surface of cuts of meat. When a rare steak is seared these bacteria are killed, but burger meat is minced so bacteria from the surface of the raw meat gets mixed all the way through the burger. These bacteria can remain alive on the inside, unless the burger is fully cooked through, no matter how good quality and expensive the meat.” The FSA survey report grouped the British consumers who were interviewed into three major categories. The largest group was termed “Rare Burger Rejecters,” or those who tend to believe that undercooked burgers are inherently risky and prefer theirs well-done. This group made up about 64 percent of the total. The next-largest group, at 24 percent, was called “Rare Burger Accepters,” or those who do not have strong preferences about how their burger is cooked and tend to accept one however it is served. They generally trust restaurants to serve rare burgers safely. The smallest group, “Rare Burger Advocates,” comprised just 12 percent of the total. They tend to view rare burgers as a gourmet foodie experience and were more likely to be younger, male and more affluent. They didn’t see a serious risk in eating undercooked burgers and reported often making them at home. Burger-thermometer_406x250The report made several recommendations on how to effectively convey information about the risk to consumers from eating undercooked ground meat, commonly referred to as “minced” in the UK. “The findings from this research suggest that messaging should focus on explaining the nature of the risk posed by rare burgers, and challenging the misconception that steak and mince carry similar levels of risk because they are both red meat. Messaging should also include information about the likelihood of harm, which consumers perceive as key to informed decision making.” To destroy pathogens, ground meat needs to be cooked all the way through until there’s no pink in the middle and juices run clear. Experts on both sides of the pond agree that the best way to test for safety is to use a properly calibrated meat thermometer. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) advises U.S. consumers to use safe handling practices when preparing raw meat and to only eat ground meat that has been cooked to a temperature of 160 degrees F. According to FSIS, the only way to confirm that meat has been cooked to a temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria is to use a food thermometer that measures internal temperature. The 91-page FSA report, “Consumer understanding of food risk: rare burgers,” can be found here. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)