More than half of 145 restaurants lacked routines to ensure the microbiological quality of not thoroughly cooked burgers, according to Swedish authorities.

The purpose of a survey last year by municipalities and Livsmedelsverket (National Food Agency) was to find out how restaurants handle burgers that are not thoroughly cooked.

As part of a control project only about half of the restaurants were judged to be able to serve safe not cooked through burgers. Most had no risk-reducing measures in place, meaning there was nothing to prevent bacteria on the surface of the meat being ground down and ending up in customers’ hamburgers.

Serving burgers made from minced meat that are not cooked through can harm consumers. The main health hazard is Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC). Food businesses that serve such hamburgers need to demonstrate their hygienic routines and procedures based on hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) minimize health risks to the consumer.

It is the first time such a project had been done and Livsmedelsverket officials said that many diners are exposed to an unnecessary risk due to inadequate handling of ground meat.

In recent years, it has become increasingly common in Sweden for restaurants to serve burgers that are not thoroughly cooked.

“It has been a strong consumer trend during the last years. It has become common for restaurants to serve less than thoroughly cooked burgers not only in large cities but also in smaller towns,” said Mats Lindblad from Livsmedelsverket.

“Primarily, restaurants need to identify relevant hazards in their HACCP based food safety management plans and take measures to reduce these to an acceptable level. Levels of E. coli in the raw minced meat were generally low, which of course is good. But there is still a need for restaurants to improve their HACCP based food safety management plans.”

A total of 151 restaurants were controlled but six stated they only served well-cooked burgers. One restaurant said it heated all burgers to +76 degrees Celsius. Most samples were from minced beef with only two from minced lamb.

The percentage of restaurants judged to have the potential to serve safe not thoroughly cooked burgers was greatest for those who minced the meat themselves (52 percent). The next best were those who bought ready-made meat (32 percent) and then the restaurants that bought ready-made (prefabricated) burgers (16 percent).

Reasons, why restaurants did not have the ability to serve safe,e not thoroughly-cooked burgers, where they did not have a risk-reducing measure such as trimming, the meat supplier had not provided enough information and the restaurant did not follow cooking instructions from the supplier that meat should be served cooked through.

Information on the origin of meat from 74 restaurants showed most came from Sweden, followed by Ireland, Netherlands, Germany, and Poland.

In Sweden, about 500 Enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) cases were reported in 2017 and around 60 percent were infected in the country. The last outbreak linked to beef started in late 2016 and lasted for a few months in 2017 with 26 people falling ill. In late summer 2018, a major EHEC outbreak sickened 116 people but the source of infection was not established.

At restaurants that served not cooked through hamburgers, 145 samples were taken and analyzed for E. coli but not STEC, meaning conclusions on health risk could not be drawn. Results for 133 restaurants were satisfactory (<50 CFU/g) and 124 were below the detection limit (<10 CFU/g). The highest amount of E. coli was 180 colony forming units per gram (CFU/g.)

There is a national goal that 500 restaurants should be controlled by the end of 2019. The 2018 project included more detailed reporting to Livsmedelsverket and sampling of raw minced meat for analysis of E. coli as a hygiene indicator.

Hygiene was good at most (94 percent) of the 145 restaurants in the project. This covered hand washing, personal hygiene, refrigeration storage and cleaning of the meat grinder.

Sixteen manufacturing plants that delivered minced meat or ready-made burgers to the restaurants were also visited but no general conclusions could be drawn due to the small sample size.

The project helped to discover a case where a firm used another company’s approval number and another where a company used an old approval number.

Livsmedelsverket and municipal authorities are now reviewing existing recommendations.

“At present, the recommendation from Livsmedelsverket is that restaurants that serve not thoroughly cooked burgers should at least trim the surface of the meat used before mincing. We will review the recommendations during 2019, and possibly tighten recommendations so that the surface of the meat needs to be heat treated before mincing,” added Lindblad.

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