The Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the United Kingdom has opened a public comment period on changes to guidance on less than thoroughly cooked beef burgers.

The agency is also asking people for their views on whether the term “less than thoroughly cooked” should be kept or replaced by “rare,” “pink” or “lightly cooked.”

Guidance, originally published in 2016, is for businesses that serve such burgers and local authorities that carry out related official controls. It includes advice on checks and safety systems to reduce the risks associated with less than thoroughly cooked beef burgers.

Changes include providing more information on how compliance may be achieved and highlighting best practice; advice on buying ground (minced) beef or beef burgers from sites approved for making products intended to be less than thoroughly cooked; and further details on consumer messaging.

The FSA has estimated a familiarization cost to the business community as being under £32,000 ($43,000). This calculation is based on the number of businesses serving less than thoroughly cooked burgers and the time taken for managers to read the guidance at each company.

Beef burgers are thoroughly cooked when a temperature of 70 degrees C for two minutes or equivalent has been reached. The USDA advice is burgers should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees F.

Balancing risks and consumer choice
If burgers are not cooked all the way through, there is a risk that harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella and E. coli O157, may survive and cause food poisoning. When meat is ground and burgers are formed, bacteria normally on the outside of meat can be spread throughout large amounts of ground meat..

Consumer demand for lightly cooked burgers has increased in recent years and the FSA acknowledged that some people wish to eat them. The agency recommends that children, pregnant women, older people and anyone with a weaker immune system have their burgers well done.

Businesses can serve rare beef burgers if they demonstrate they have controlled the risks to acceptable levels. Firms must inform their local authority first and have a food safety management system (FSMS) that takes into account this offering.

The document covers the sear and save method, the source control method and sous vide method for beef burgers. It does not apply to burgers made from other meat. FSA advice is that such burgers should be thoroughly cooked.

Consumer messaging helps people understand the potential risks of eating rare beef burgers and aims to discourage consumers from eating them at home.

Comments on the consultation are open until April 27.

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