Taking pink burgers to court is a step too far

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We’re foursquare behind food hygiene authorities when they prosecute dirty restaurants.

Chicken kept in buckets, rat droppings on worktops, dirty towels and rags touching raw food – all have been cited in Portsmouth court cases recently, and none have a place in kitchens, whether commercial or private.

But a clean and tidy restaurant being served with court proceedings because it advertises – and many people choose to eat – pink burgers is a step too far.

As we report today, 6 oz Burgers in Southsea will have to go before magistrates to fight the case to serve its meat rare after a visit from the inspectors. This hasn’t been sparked by any outbreak of sickness, or poisoning, but rather an edict handed down by the Food Standards Agency which regards undercooked meat as unsafe.

Now the FSA is obviously an expert body, but we would suggest that its decision here is perverse.

There may well be an element of risk to a pink burger, but crucially it’s one the customer is aware of. It’s not the same as unhygienic preparation, nor is it equivalent to a careless use of nuts in recipes, which unwittingly can cause serious reactions.

So far no-one has reported being ill. Rare meat is enjoyed by many, whether in pink burger form or steak tartare. The crucial part of the FSA’s guidance would appear to be the line that says ‘undercooked meat should be regarded as unsafe unless a proper method is used to make it safe’.

If 18,000 burgers served since the opening of the burger bar have been digested without mishap, as the proprietors suggest, then we would like to think that the court will decide that a ‘proper method’ is indeed being employed, and 6 oz Burgers will be allowed to resume its original menu.

If not, then perhaps we ought to gird ourselves for a future with no pink meat, no eggs, no nuts, no gluten and no dairy, even for those who choose to eat such food stuffs.

Because while health inspectors are motivated by the right reasons, they can overstep the mark. We can’t legislate all risk out of food preparation – let’s hope we see some good taste shown by all sides.

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