Burger fans are furious with the NSW Food Authority over its 'well done' advice

Neil Perry at Burger Project. Photo: Simon Thomsen

Sydney’s burger wars have flared on a new front after the NSW Food Authority threatened chefs with $1540 fines for not cooking hamburgers properly.

News.com.au reports that concerns by council food inspectors led to new guidelines issued in February that any mince should be cooked until there is no visible pink meat.

The new guidelines follow a rise in gourmet burgers by some of Australia’s best chefs, including Rockpool’s Neil Perry, whose Burger Project chain serves patties cooked to medium, and former two-hat chef Warren Turnbull’s Chur Burger.

The NSW Food Authority guidelines paint an alarming picture of people who have fallen ill, including some who have died, with mince meat held responsible.

But after the authority posted its burger safety fact sheet on Facebook, saying “When minced patties are not cooked properly they can cause food poisoning. While pink patties are a recent food trend, contracting E. coli is a real risk”, burger fans attacked them, pointing out that the US figures cited were statistically miniscule and could not specially be blamed on hamburgers.

Elizabeth Henderson took the authorities to task on the US data, saying 37 cases of sickness in the US last year out of a population of 320 million people. You do realise that’s 0.000012% don’t you? On those odds, 0.9 people in NSW might be affected if this trend takes off. More people worked on the pamphlet.”

Annabelle Lecter pointed out the source of the US contamination in 2015 was a Chipotle Mexican Grill.

“The chain does not serve burgers,” she said.

“If a chef uses quality cuts of freshly sourced, freshly ground meat on properly sterilized equipment, there should be NO reason why we cannot choose to have it cooked to our liking.”

Brendon Green said he worked in the fast food industry for almost a decade and agreed frozen patties should always be cooked through, but added the trend the authority was worried about mostly involved freshly made patties.

“This is robbing us of choice as consumers we accept the risk that eating something someone else cooked could make us sick that’s a risk wherever you eat,” he said.

“Your pamphlet is ill informed and references cases outside of Australia where food safety standards aren’t as stringent as ours. Stop trying to scare people and let us live.”

Others, amid 100 comments, saw it as another example of the “nanny state” was once again stealing their life choices.

“Stop telling me how where and when to drink my booze, live my life or eat my food whilst I appreciate the well resourced New South Wales food authority concerns around Burgers served correctly (medium rare) your energy would be better directed in helping establishments adhere to the food hygiene and serving guidelines rather than the produce that one chooses to offer to its customers and consume. Time for some old-fashioned common sense,” said Cameron Fitter.

Tim Brown held a similar view, saying: “What is wrong with Sydney! Can’t go out for a beer or a burger without being told what to do, this city has become a joke!”

The authority’s “Hamburger Food Safety” fact sheet says “to reduce the potential for foodborne illness, minced meat should be cooked right through to the centre. No pink should be visible and juices should run clear” adding that the internal temperature should reach 71°C.

That temperature is about 11°C less than Neil Perry’s Burger Project, leaving him open to $1540 fines for what the guidelines suggest is “unsafe food”. A NSW Food Authority spokesperson told News that any restaurant wanting to cook burgers at a lower temperature had to prove to them that the process was safe.

Perry’s team, which also serves a $24 wagyu beef burger at Rockpool Bar & Grill, prepares the meat for his patties daily, reducing the potential for bacteria to build up.

Perry was unable to comment on the issue to Business Insider, but told News that the guidelines were designed as a “worst-case scenario” to ensure food safety for everyone.

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