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Are rare steaks safe to eat? #foodsafety #pinkmeat #charlescampion

This week an article by food critic Charles Campion appeared in The Daily Mail. It transpires that he enjoys his steak, as do many others, seared on the outside and very rare in the middle. His fear was that meat cooked this way in restaurants may soon be a thing of the past since the issue of guidance from the Food Standards Agency that, in the interests of safety, meat should be cooked all the way through.

Following the guidance would mean that not only steaks, but liver, duck, lamb and venison would no longer be served pink and tender in the middle. Diners would not be able to choose how they wanted their meat cooked and many chefs believe this would kill the restaurant trade.

The man from the FSA says “yes.”

In response to Charles Campion’s article, the FSA wrote a letter explaining that they had issued no guidance that would prevent steaks being served rare and had no plans to do so. The letter goes on to say that “Steak is safe to eat ‘rare.’ Whole cuts of beef, lamb, steaks cutlets and joints only have germs on the outside, so as long as the outside is cooked any potentially harmful germs that could cause food poisoning will be killed.”

So where does this misunderstanding stem from? It seems that some local council officials/ health inspectors have been trying to enforce rules designed for factories and fast food chains onto restaurants. According to the NHS Choices website, the following foods need to be cooked thoroughly before eating: Poultry (including liver), pork, offal (including liver), burgers, sausages, rolled joints of meat and kebabs.

Should pork be served pink?

Elsewhere, however, there is continuing debate about whether pork should be served slightly pink. A pork steak, chop or joint, like other meat such as beef, lamb etc. consists of a single piece of meat. Therefore, if we apply the same rules, if it is cooked on the outside surfaces of the meat, any potential pathogens should be killed. The reason why we have been told to cook pork all the way through is because of the possible threat of trichinosis – caused by a parasite found within pigs which can cause serious food poisoning and even death.

Recently, the USDA lowered the temperature for cooking pork safely by 9.5°C, which means that in the US pork can be left slightly pink and therefore more succulent. The USDA made the decision to lower the cooking temperature to 62°C (the same as for beef and lamb)following several scientific tests and the fact that trichinosis has practically been eradicated due to the indoor rearing of pigs and chemicals to deal with the parasites. The UK has yet to issue similar guidelines, but surely it is only a matter of time.

VWA’s guide to cooking meat

Beef, lamb and venison steaks etc.

Beef, lamb and venison steaks, joints, chops etc. can be served rare because they are single pieces of muscle. Any bacteria present during slaughter and processing can only be found on the outer surface of the meat. Cooking quickly at a high temperature i.e. searing on all sides or roasting, not only seals in the flavour, but it also kills any potential pathogens on the surface of the meat.

Processed meats

Burgers, sausages, kebabs or other minced beef, lamb or pork products must be cooked all the way through because they are made up of small pieces of processed meat As a result there are several external surfaces on the insides of the finished products as well as the outsides. Ensuring that no pink meat is visible by heating to the specified internal temperature of 75°C will kill food poisoning bacteria.

Steak tartare, which is raw filet steak chopped very finely and combined with egg, mustard and seasoning, does also of course have several surfaces and is served uncooked. The safety of this is down to scrupulous hygiene practices by the chef during preparation.

Poultry

Chicken and other poultry need to be cooked all the way through. This is because of the risk of salmonella food poisoning. For whole birds the thickest part of the leg (this is between the drumstick and the thigh) should be pierced to check that the meat is not red or pink and that the juices run clear.

Duck, although also classed as poultry can be served pink because it can reach a temperature of 75°C without being ‘well-done.’ It is also deemed a lower salmonella risk than factory farmed chickens and turkeys.

Pork

Until UK guidelines change in line with the USA, pork should be cooked all the way through.

Understanding food safety is essential

In a good restaurant where the chef, kitchen and serving staff have been well trained in food safety and hygiene practices the risk of getting food poisoning will be exceptionally rare – just like the steaks they might serve. It is in establishments which do not know the dangers of contamination and cross-contamination and do not adopt stringent food safety procedures where you are most at risk. That’s why it is worth ensuring that restaurants and takeaways you visit score highly on the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme.

Make sure you’re safe food savvy

Our Level 2 Food Safety online course will give you all the basic information you need to operate a safe catering business or restaurant. It consists of separate modules, so you can study at a pace and time convenient to you. For more advanced courses, such as the Level 3 Award in Supervising Food Safety (also available online) and Level 4 Award in Food Safety Management, click here for more information and course dates.