A survey revealed that undercooked burgers are often sold in Hong Kong

More than 40 percent of restaurants in Hong Kong serve undercooked burgers if asked, according to a survey.

The Center for Food Safety in Hong Kong (CFS) interviewed more than 1,000 restaurants selling burgers, including fast food and table service restaurants in 2021. Undercooked burger patties were more likely to be served at higher-priced restaurants.

So-called gourmet-style burger restaurants have become a trend in the country. Some sell less than fully cooked burger patties which taste and feel different than the good version.

Outbreaks of foodborne illness associated with undercooked burgers or ground beef have been reported both abroad and domestically. When minced, bacteria such as Escherichia coli and salmonella can be mixed from the surface of the raw meat all over the whole meat pie. Without thorough cooking, they can survive indoors.

On-site results

After face-to-face interviews and visits to 24 restaurants, officials found that some food handlers believed that poor quality beef patties could be eaten undercooked. Since they believed that well-done burger patties were inferior in terms of juiciness, texture and flavor, some were not cooked well to meet customer demand. The majority of food handlers were unaware of safe internal combinations of temperature and time.

Most of the staff did not use a food thermometer to check for doneness but relied on indicators such as texture and colour. When temperatures were measured on site, all medium and medium sized burgers were undercooked, as they did not achieve any of the safe combinations of temperature and time.

When restaurants were asked to prepare well-cooked burgers, about a fifth were found to be undercooked. This could put at risk customers who inadvertently ate an undercooked burger. Other food handlers overcooked their patties when asked to make an overcooked burger. This explains why they thought a well-cooked burger was dry and diners would reject it.

CFS said employees should use a food thermometer to ensure the core temperature of food has reached a safe level for a specified period. When ordering burgers in restaurants, consumers are advised to order that it is well prepared. If the restaurant serves a burger that is undercooked, they should send it back to be well cooked.

Unrelated outbreaks

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) also recently consulted on revised guidelines for undercooked beef burgers. Eighteen comments were received and some questioned the agency’s position.

The Hong Kong Food Safety Center also reported four outbreaks of the disease in June. One affected five men and six women, ages 14 to 70, and was linked to steamed oysters or lobster. The food was contaminated with Vibrio paraemolyticus and Norovirus. Another involved three women between the ages of 21 and 36 caused by Scombrotoxin (histamine) in tuna steaks.

One salmonella outbreak affected four people between the ages of 3 and 51 and was suspected to have been caused by roast pork and egg fried rice. Another also infected four people between the ages of 25 and 46 and was linked to tiramisu, which contains raw eggs.

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