Is Undercooked Meat Safe?

It’s a practice that’s been around for years – undercooked steaks. But now there’s is a new trend emerging: undercooked burgers. So what’s the advice? Is undercooked meat safe?

Let’s start with┬ámeat…

All raw meat contains bacteria. The types and amounts vary between different meats, and factors like farm hygiene and how they are reared and slaughtered do play a part.

What about steaks?

Steaks are whole cuts of meat, that means other than being sliced, they haven’t been processed in any other way. Most of the bacteria on meat is found on the outside surface, so if steaks are sealed correctly (all outside surfaces heated above 70oC), then the majority are killed off. This means that having steaks pink in the middle are thought to be safe to eat.

Cross Contamination

Cross contamination means transferring bacteria from a-b-c. This can be done through contaminated chopping boards, knives, dishcloths or unwashed hands.

If you undercook steaks, you must ensure you don’t cross contaminate them:

  • Use separate chopping boards – one for raw (red) and one for cooked (yellow).
  • Wash your hands with clean water and antibacterial handwash.
  • If it’s not possible to wash your hands correctly, have one person handling the raw meat and someone else handling the cooked.
  • Use separate equipment e.g. knives, cutlery, bowls etc…

KEY POINT: bacteria can be re-introduced to cooked meats via cross contamination bad practices.

So what about mince then?

Mince is a processed meat product, meaning the meat has been chopped and mixed. This means that any bacteria on the outside of the meat is now mixed throughout the mince. You should ensure all minced products are cooked thoroughly in the middle, so the juices run clean and no pink meat is showing. This means a core cooking temperature >75oC. This is the minimum temperature required to kill bacteria. This should be monitored with a food temperature probe and recorded as part of your due diligence.

If mince is left pink, it means the core temperature is not hot enough and some bacteria can remain posing a food safety risk.

What is more, some types of bacteria can produce spores which are much harder to eliminate; temperatures >121oC are required to kill these and any toxins produced by the bacteria.

Which meats can be served pink?

Pink / Undercooked NOT Pink / Undercooked
Beef Chicken / Turkey
Lamb Pork
Duck Any minced meat
Venison

Take away points

  • Always handle meat hygienically and with care
  • Whole meats can be served pink; minced meats cannot
  • Take steps to avoid cross contamination
  • Some people (such as young, ill and elderly) are more vulnerable

Further information

The Food Standard Agency advises against the practice of pink burgers but has published some guidance on it here.

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