According to findings of a control operation in Finland, the risk management of ground beef steaks served medium in restaurants needs improvement.

The environmental department of the Oulu region analyzed risk management processes during the preparation and serving of ground (minced) meat steaks sold medium-cooked.

Findings showed that customers received information about the degree of doneness of the steak but were not told about the E. coli risk. The microbiological quality of raw meat was good, but Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) was found in two of 12 samples. Both samples were from one restaurant, where ground beef steaks came from industrially prepared raw meat. Products were frozen, and beef originated from several EU countries.

The Finnish Food Authority (Ruokavirasto) recommends that all ground meat products should be served properly cooked. Grinding allows any bacteria on the surface to be mixed throughout the meat, and if products are only cooked medium, bacteria can survive.

Information about cooking methods
In discussions during inspections, officials found the difference between the risks of a medium-cooked ground beef steak and a medium-cooked whole beef steak was not fully understood.

When a restaurant offers medium-cooked ground beef steaks, it must have a risk management plan to control the risk of E. coli food poisoning. Methods used by 12 restaurants were inspected in the project from July 2021 to October 2022.

Restaurants must put the risk management methods they use in writing. Inspections found that only one site had described such written measures as part of self-monitoring.

The most common method was to ask the customer how they wanted the ground beef to be served. Also, the customer was told it is offered medium unless they asked for something else. However, the client was not given written information about the E. coli risk from medium-cooked ground steaks.

Most restaurants use industrially produced ground meat to prepare medium-cooked beef products. One restaurant’s risk management method was the manufacturer’s guarantee that the ground beef steak could be left medium.

Inspectors said it was essential to familiarize staff with risk management in preparing and serving medium-cooked ground beef. The methods must be described in the self-monitoring documents to ensure consistency.

Separate control operation
Another project looked at the microbiological quality of potato products, rice, and pasta.

Environmental health monitoring units of Hamina, Kotka, and Kouvola carried out the campaign in May and June 2023. A total of 55 samples were collected. Results showed seven of moderate quality and 14 of poor quality. Samples were collected from 46 restaurants in Kymenlaakso.

The sampled rice, pasta, and potato products were cooked at the serving location and then cooled. Products had to be reheated before being served to the customer. The product’s and storage temperatures were measured during sampling, and cooling and reheating practices were investigated.

In the samples with average and poor results, total bacteria, Enterobacteriaceae, and Bacillus cereus exceeded guideline values. A large amount of Bacillus cereus was only detected in one sample.

The project revealed deficiencies in self-monitoring plans, monitoring temperatures, and recording results. Storage temperatures were often too high, and microwaves were used to reheat food with sensory cues and estimations to judge if this was adequate, and some equipment was unclean.

Advice and sampling continued for catering establishments with poor results until the operating methods and sample results were considered reasonable.

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