Expecting to receive raw meat that is free from bacteria is tantamount to expecting to win the lottery every week. Not only is it unrealistic but it is also pretty pointless, unless I am mistaken we tend to cook (or treat) raw meats before we eat them.
Playing devil’s advocate here, the recent press coverage about failing standards in abattoirs could actually be seen, in some way, as not being news. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) have firmly set the record straight on the findings of the investigation, noting that only 0.43% of ALL meat produced in abattoirs is rejected by official inspectors. Yes, audit inspections may find problems in operations but this is the case for the majority of audit inspections at any food operation, inspectors usually find something!
There is one key concern when it comes to the findings of the Guardian article and this is in direct relation to the issue of rare burgers, FSA guidance is quite specific around the sourcing of meat which is produced for consumption following light cooking. If, as alleged, E.coli is present on such meat then there is the heightened risk that rare burgers may cause an E.coli food poisoning outbreak; clearly this would be of concern to food business operators who actively sell rare burgers.
Raw meat has had bad press over recent years whether that’s the horse meat scandal, campylobacter in chicken from supermarkets or this latest report on the hygiene standards in abattoirs. It is safe to say, however, that raw meat is very much a low risk product and by following these simple rules it should be safe to eat, whether contaminated with bacteria or not:
Control your supply chain – ensure that the place you buy your meat from both holds and maintains the correct government approvals and is certified to the highest 3rd party audit standard possible. By undertaking spot checks yourself or asking for unannounced audit visits you can also help to remove the risk that standards are good for announced visits but then drop off when audits are not due.
Ensure that the raw meat is stored safely – maintain the cold chain from point of delivery to preparation by setting your expected delivery temperatures with your supplier, and actively checking them. This will help to reduce any bacterial growth on the meat prior to preparation.
Control contamination risks – this should extend to deliveries, checking that delivery drivers do not expose meat to contamination during transport and delivery and that you remove the risk of raw meat contaminating ready to eat foods during storage, preparation and service. Avoid washing raw poultry before use as this can contaminate areas of the kitchen.
Cook meat thoroughly – ensuring that meats are prepared and cooked thoroughly is an essential control. Whilst some meats e.g. steak can be cooked rare, remember that rolled meats should be cooked through. Always follow the FSA controls for rare burgers to the letter if you are looking at serving them.
Train your staff – ensuring that your staff understand hazards and associated controls is essential to reducing the risk that raw meats will contaminate other foods.
Abattoirs and meat cutting plants have standards which are carefully assessed by the FSA. However, as with most foods, controls need to be implemented at all stages of the food supply chain to make sure that the end consumer stays happy and healthy after eating!