How to avoid the very nasty bac­te­ria that’s thriv­ing on the lat­est food trend

Irish Daily Mail - - Good Health - By MAEVE QUIGLEY

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 safe­

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