A TASTE for pink meat could be responsible for record food poisoning figures, safety campaigners fear.
More than two-fifths of people reported having suffered severe stomach upsets after eating under-cooked food – a new high.
The fifth biannual Food in Scotland Consumer Tracking Survey reveals the growing popularity for pinker meat may be putting diners at risk of campylobacter and salmonella poisoning.
The alarming statistics come as more people than ever enjoy a barbecue in Scotland’s good weather.
There has been a rise in the number washing raw meat, which they shouldn’t, and a drop in the number washing utensils during preparation, which they should.
This is despite campaigns by Food Standards Scotland highlighting dangerous practices in the kitchen.
Experts warn that only the best cuts of beef or lamb should be eaten pink, as cases of hepatitis E from contaminated pork are on the rise.
Leading bacteriologist Professor Hugh Pennington said consumers’ ignorance put their health at risk.
“I do think the public is not all that aware of safety. Foods vary enormously in their risk,” he said.
“How meat is handled before and during cooking in the kitchen is very important, down to not washing a chicken and making sure juices do not touch uncooked food.
“Fifty per cent-plus of chicken carcasses carry campylobacter on the outside. It only takes a few hundred to cause illness.
“A very brief blast of heat will kill off the bacteria – it is reasonably heat sensitive.”
Increasingly, celebrity chefs – like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Nigel Slater – describe cooking methods that will leave meat pink.
Prof Pennington said: “Cookery programmes don’t really emphasis food safety very much, a lot of its is about the presentation, speed and competition.
“It has been the case for many years that the food safety side is not mentioned very often. Perhaps Food Standards Scotland is missing a trick there?” Campylobacter – which lives in the gut of many farm animals – is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK, with four in five cases in the UK coming from contaminated poultry, especially chicken.
However, the bacteria is also found in red meat and unpasteurised milk.
Harmful bacteria, including E. coli O157, can contaminate the surface of beef cuts and are mixed throughout the meat after mincing and forming into burgers. The only way these bacteria can be eliminated is by thorough cooking.
In the survey, FSS’s recommended cooking behaviours include “always cook food until it is steaming hot throughout; never eat chicken or turkey if the meat is pink or has pink or red juices; never eat burgers or sausages if the meat is pink or has pink or red juices; and never eat whole cuts of pork or pork chops if the meat is pink or has pink or red juices.”
However, they do say “it is acceptable to eat whole cuts of beef and lamb that are pink, eg a steak”.
Yet the number who claim to never eat poultry if pink or with red juices has dropped from 83% in 2015 to 81% in the latest figures; the number never eating pink pork is on decline from 72% in 2015 to 68% now; and those never eating red meat if pink or with red juices has fallen from 47% to 44%.
Of those surveyed, 6% said they had suffered from food poisoning in the past 12 months – up from 4% in 2015.
And more people – 41% – admitted to having suffered from food poisoning, with campylobacter and salmonella being the most common cause.
There was also an increase in people always washing raw meat, other than poultry, up from 12% in 2015 to 14%.
What the chefs say
Some experts believe TV cookery programmes have encouraged the rising popularity in pinker meat but have not done enough to stress how to prepare and cook it safely. Here are a few of the TV chefs thinking pinker.
“If you’ve got a beautiful piece of duck breast, the last thing you want to do is cook it until it’s tough.”
– Prue Leith
“Whatever quality of beef it is…it has gone past any form of taste when you’ve cooked it to well done…You’re never going to identify the quality of beef when the steak is well cooked.”
– Gordon Ramsay
“Roast for eight to 10 minutes, until the skin is browned and crisp – at this point, the meat should still be pink.”
– Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s duck breast recipe
“Now it appears that we are no longer allowed to cook chicken livers pink! Something I have grown up with and learnt since college. The skill of a very good kitchen (is when) you get a beautiful set chicken liver pate with a beautiful flush going through it which obviously comes about from cooking it at a certain temperature. But it’s cooked, it’s completely safe.”
– Mark Sargeant
“With beef or lamb or venison, duck or grouse, and even with pork these days, serving it rare so the juices run is not a quick route to the nearest cemetery. It is a quick route to a good meal. Perhaps you still can’t stomach the idea. In which case you really shouldn’t be eating meat at all. You don’t deserve it.”
– Jay Rayner
Safety tips served up for barbecue lovers
Steve Brown, a senior chef at the award-winning independent Edinburgh School of Food & Wine, said: “It is so important to ensure that poultry and pork is really cooked thoroughly, to avoid the risk of illness.
“For chicken, it needs to be cooked to 75C, the temperature at which bacteria dies.
“I would recommend a food probe as an invaluable piece of kit in the kitchen – not only for meat but also for fish, but for cooking custards and jams – all sorts of things we use temperature as the guide. You remove any subjectivity with a food probe.
“The problem is as the mass market demands cheaper and cheaper meats, and farmers are driven harder and harder to produce it, the consumer must keep an eye on ensuring the best quality they can afford.”
FSS’s chief scientific adviser, Professor Norval Strachan, said: “People enjoy the occasional barbecue so knowing how different meats should be cooked is really important, to avoid nasty illnesses.
“Our advice is that sausages, burgers and poultry should be cooked all the way through, until the juices run clear, at 75C.
“It’s also important that you keep raw and cooked meats separate and use different kitchen utensils to stop the spread of bacteria.”