Council warning on beef cooked rare

LORNA MARSH Potentially deadly bacteria has been found in burgers at restaurants across Norwich in "alarmingly" high numbers, prompting officials last night to warn owners not to serve them rare.

LORNA MARSH

Potentially deadly bacteria has been found in burgers at restaurants across Norwich in "alarmingly" high numbers, prompting officials last night to warn owners not to serve them rare.

The shocking figures from Norwich City Council show that 10 out of 11 raw burgers tested contained listeria, four in 11 contained E-coli and, most disturbingly, one was infected with a killer strain indicating faeces contamination.

They come as a health experts nationally reported a huge rise in the number of cases of listeria.

The Norwich food safety team said they were surprised by the extremely high number of burgers found to contain bacteria and were particularly concerned about the presence of E-coli 0157, which killed 16 people and made a further 120 ill in Scotland in 1996.

Jaan Stanton, leader of the team, said that what made the results more alarming was the fact that three restaurants were prepared to serve burgers rare.

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"These results are very disturbing. E-coli 0157 is a particularly nasty organism which can cause kidney failure and even death. Children and the elderly are particularly at risk.

"Norwich City Council's food safety officers have been alarmed about the growing number of restaurants offering rare burgers on their menus, seemingly unaware of the adverse health implications in doing so.

"Very often food proprietors confuse beef steaks, which can, with care, be served rare, with burgers that can't.

"Others get customers to sign a disclaimer before serving them a rare burger, incorrectly believing this will prevent them from being prosecuted should that person become ill," said Mr Stanton.

"The message is clear, food outlets that serve rare burgers risk making their customers seriously ill. Raw burgers contain harmful bacteria and only by making sure burgers are thoroughly cooked can you be certain they are safe.

"Never ask for a rare burger and, if you are offered one, report it to your local environ-mental health department immediately."

Mr Stanton said the restaurants would not be named, as arranged before they agreed to co-operate with the survey, because the contamination could have happened at any stage, including from the animal itself.

He said it is possible for the surface of beef steaks to be contaminated with bacteria which can then be killed off by cooking the outside.

But with burgers the infected surface is minced into the inside and only by ensuring the centre of the burger is cooked can any bacteria be killed off.

He added the food safety team is continuing to monitor the situation closely and is available to offer free advice to food proprietors and the public on this issue.

Nationally, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) said 79 cases of listeria had so far been reported this year - an 80pc increase over the same period last year.

Fifty-five (70pc) of the cases were among people aged 60 years and over and nine were in pregnant women - a particularly vulnerable group.

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