More than 40 percent of restaurants in Hong Kong serve undercooked burgers if asked, according to a survey.

The Center for Food Safety in Hong Kong (CFS) interviewed more than 1,000 restaurants that sold burgers, including fast-food and table-service outlets in 2021. Undercooked burger patties were more likely to be served at higher-priced restaurants.

So-called Gourmet-style burger restaurants have become a trend in the country. Some sell less than fully cooked burger patties that give a taste and mouthfeel different from the well-done version. 

Foodborne outbreaks associated with undercooked burgers or ground (minced) beef have been reported overseas and locally. Upon mincing, bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella from the raw meat’s surface can be mixed throughout the whole meat patty. Without thorough cooking, they can survive on the inside.

Onsite findings

Following face-to-face interviews and visits to 24 restaurants, officials found that some food handlers thought high-quality beef patties could be eaten undercooked. Since they believed that well-done burger patties were inferior in terms of juiciness, texture and flavor, some undercooked the burgers to meet customer demand. The majority of food handlers were unaware of safe internal temperature-time combinations.

Most staff did not use a food thermometer to verify doneness but relied on indicators such as texture and color. When the temperatures were measured on site, all medium and most medium-well burgers were undercooked, as they did not achieve any of the safe temperature-time combinations.

When the restaurants were asked to prepare well-done burgers, about one-fifth were still found to be undercooked. This might endanger customers who unintentionally ate undercooked burgers. Other food handlers overcooked their patties when asked to prepare a well-done burger. This explains why they thought well-done burgers were dry and would be refused by diners. 

CFS said employees should use a food thermometer to ensure that the food’s core temperature reaches a safe level for a specific time. When ordering burgers in restaurants, consumers are advised to request for it to be well-done. If a restaurant serves an undercooked burger, they should send it back to be thoroughly cooked.

Unrelated outbreaks

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) also recently consulted on revised guidance for less than thoroughly cooked beef burgers. Eighteen comments were received and some questioned the agency’s position.

The Center for Food Safety in Hong Kong also reported four outbreaks in June. One affected five men and six women, aged 14 to 70, and was linked to steamed oysters or crab. Food was contaminated by Vibrio parahaemolyticus and Norovirus. Another involved three women aged 21 to 36 and was caused by Scombrotoxin (histamine) in tuna fillet.

One Salmonella outbreak affected four people aged 3 to 51 and was suspected to have been caused by BBQ pork and egg fried rice. Another also sickened four people aged 25 to 46 and was linked to tiramisu containing raw eggs.

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