Burger she wrote

The food choices giv­ing us trou­ble

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Front Page - Sylvia Thomp­son

Many of us as­so­ciate food poi­son­ing with eat­ing shell­fish in dodgy restau­rants in for­eign hol­i­day re­sorts or eat­ing un­der­cooked chicken or pork at a sum­mer BBQ, but a re­cent sur­vey by safe­food has shown that the new trend for eat­ing gourmet beef burg­ers less than well done is putting peo­ple at risk of food poi­son­ing.

“Mince used in beef burg­ers is a higher risk be­cause the food poi­son­ing bac­te­ria that live on the sur­face of the beef steak is then mixed through the mid­dle of the burger when the beef in minced,” ex­plains Dr Gary Kear­ney, di­rec­tor of food sci­ence at safe­food. So in ef­fect, the out­side is now on the in­side – and the only way to en­sure that any bac­te­ria in the mid­dle of the burger is killed off is to have the burger well cooked, he ex­plains.

The grow­ing trend of serv­ing burg­ers less than well done in restau­rants across Ire­land has raised con­cerns for the reg­u­la­tory au­thor­i­ties, in­clud­ing the Food Safety Author­ity of Ire­land (FSAI) and the HSE’s En­vi­ron­men­tal Health Ser­vice. An on­line sur­vey by safe­food, the all-Ire­land food safety board, found that more than 50 per cent of adults ad­mit­ted they eat un­der­cooked burg­ers when in restau­rants.

Ear­lier in 2017, the FSAI is­sued new ad­vice to cater­ers to only serve beef burg­ers that are fully cooked. “A burger is not like a steak which is of­ten eaten medium or medium rare, so we are re­mind­ing peo­ple that the safest way to en­joy burg­ers is to al­ways ask for your burger to be well-cooked,” adds Dr Kear­ney.

How­ever, un­der­cooked beef is not the only cause of food poi­son­ing and of­ten it’s hard to know ex­actly what has caused food poi­son­ing. Dr Lisa O’Con­nor, chief spe­cial­ist in bi­o­log­i­cal safety at the Food Safety Author­ity of Ire­land (FSAI), says of­ten peo­ple blame the last meal they ate or the last meal they ate out, but 50 per cent of out­breaks re­ported by the Euro­pean Food Safety Author­ity hap­pen in the house­hold and 50 per cent hap­pen at cater­ing or restau­rant level.

“Harm­ful bac­te­ria or viruses have a vari­able in­cu­ba­tion pe­riod. That’s the time be­tween con­sum­ing the harm­ful bac­te­ria or virus and the time symp­toms de­velop. Take Sal­mo­nella for ex­am­ple, the time be­tween be­ing ex­posed and get­ting sick is 12 to 36 hours but it could be as lit­tle as six or as long as 72 hours,” says Dr O’Con­nor.

Al­though she says it’s a good idea to con­tact a restau­rant if a few peo­ple have sus­pected food poi­son­ing af­ter hav­ing the same dish, Dr O’Con­nor cau­tions peo­ple against self-di­ag­nos­ing. “Un­less you have ev­i­dence that the source was food, you can’t be sure. You can have many of the same symp­toms through direct con­tact with in­fected an­i­mals or con­tam­i­nated wa­ter. Only a doctor can con­firm food poi­son­ing with a stool sam­ple,” she ex­plains.

Mem­bers of the public can re­port sus­pected food poi­son­ing in a restau­rant to the Food Safety Author­ity of Ire­land by call­ing 1890 336677 or email­ing info@fsai.ie or com­plet­ing an on­line com­plaint form on fsai.ie/makeit­bet­ter. The FSAI re­ceived al­most 750 com­plaints about sus­pected food poi­son­ing in 2016.

There is lit­tle you can do to stop food poi­son­ing once you have eaten con­tam­i­nated food.

Re­hy­dra­tion is key to re­cov­ery so drink­ing plenty of flu­ids – wa­ter, ap­ple juice, broth or an iso­tonic en­ergy drink with elec­trolytes. For­tu­nately, most forms of food poi­son­ing (see panel) last be­tween one and three days. How­ever, some forms such as lis­te­ria can be fa­tal. For this rea­son, food safety ex­perts rec­om­mend four sim­ple rules to pre­vent food poi­son­ing.

The first rule is to al­ways wash your hands be­fore and af­ter han­dling and eat­ing food, af­ter go­ing to the toi­let or play­ing with pets or an­i­mals.

The sec­ond rule is make sure that food is thor­oughly cooked so as to de­stroy any harm­ful bac­te­ria that might be present.

The third rule is to keep food cool and make sure that your fridge is at five de­grees centi­grade or lower. And, fi­nally, sep­a­rate raw and cooked foods dur­ing stor­age and never let raw meat come in con­tact with food that is ready to eat.


Left: Dr Lisa O’Con­nor, chief spe­cial­ist in bi­o­log­i­cal safety at the Food Safety Author­ity of Ire­land , says of­ten peo­ple blame the last meal they ate.

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