How to avoid the very nasty bacteria that’s thriving on the latest food trend
SPARKING up your barbecue? Then try and avoid the new food trend that’s causing concern for the experts.
Many of us are now choosing to have our burgers the way we like our steak. But cooking and eating burgers rare could leave you open to infection by a very nasty bacteria.
Dr Linda Gordon, chief specialist of food science at Safefood explains: ‘The concern is that a lot of people are ordering burgers less than well done when they are eating in restaurants which are offering them cooked preferences.
‘With burgers you can’t take any chances when it comes to cooking — they need to be cooked the whole way through.
‘But over the last couple of years there has been an increase in the number of burger restaurants opening up, which do offer a cooking preference for burgers.’
Safefood launched its Burger Fever campaign after other agencies expressed concern about the idea of rare and medium-rare burgers.
‘It is really through our colleagues in the Food Safety Authority and the Environmental Health Agency talking to us about this,’ Dr Gordon says.
‘They were concerned when they were out in restaurants that this was being offered. We did a survey and found that over half of those who took part said they do eat burgers that are undercooked when eating out.’
One of the main issues is that people are treating mince in the same way as they would a steak.
Dr Gordon says: ‘Mince is different and it needs to be cooked the whole way through.
‘I think part of the problem is that people don’t necessarily consider the difference between a burger and a steak.
‘The difference is that with a piece of meat, the bacteria would be predominantly on the outside of the steak, so when you are cooking the meat you are killing the bacteria. Once you sear the steak, you are killing the bacteria so you are safe to eat it rare or medium rare.
‘With a burger, once you mince it, the bacteria are being moved into the centre of it so they are the whole way through, not just on the outside. With mincing you are bringing the outside in, effectively.’
The main bacteria to worry about is called VTEC which can cause food poisoning — and a lot worse.
‘The main concern is VTEC,’ Dr Martin Cormican, Professor of Bacteriology, National University of Ireland, Galway, explains.
‘There are lots of bacteria that are very common in the gastrointestinal tracts of animals and humans. But VTEC produces very powerful toxin that can cause quite serious food poisoning, which is more of a concern than other types.
ABOUT one in ten people will develop problems with the blood and kidneys and maybe five per cent of those will be fatal cases, and another five per cent will get long-term kidney damage, requiring dialysis or transplant. So we see serious illnesses requiring hospital treatment.’
The issue with VTEC comes when the meat is minced.
‘VTEC is common in the gut of cattle,’ Dr Cormican says. ‘It usually doesn’t bother the cattle at all so they are perfectly healthy but when the animal is slaughtered, the VTEC do end up getting into the meat.
Most slaughterhouses do take measures to reduce the risk of that happening — but nothing is 100% safe, so there is a danger you get some of the VTEC on the meat.
‘The meat gets ground up to make mince beef and put back together to make the patty, and then you grind it up — so you end up with this VTEC ground into the meat. Instead of it just being on the outside like in a steak where you can cook it off, it can be right in the middle as well.’
The bacteria can also live on a knife or a chopping board for hours a day.
Dr Cormican explains: ‘It is killed by heat but it will live on surfaces of chopping boards and knives for a period, so you need to keep separate chopping boards for meat and salads, for example. So if there is VTEC on your knife you don’t then go about chopping your lettuce with it, because of course people eat salad without cooking and if the salad is contaminated from beef then you will carry it over.’ ÷SEE safefood.eu