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

The Hong Kong Center for Food Safety (CFS) surveyed more than 1,000 restaurants that sold hamburgers, including fast food and table service outlets in 2021. Undercooked hamburger patties are 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 hamburger patties that taste and feel different in the mouth from the well-done version.

Foodborne outbreaks involving undercooked burgers or ground beef (ground beef) have been reported internationally and locally. When grinding, bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella from the surface of raw meat can be mixed into the entire meat patty. Without thorough cooking, they can survive inside.

Conclusions in place

After face-to-face interviews and visits to 24 restaurants, officials found that some food service workers believed high-quality beef patties could be eaten undercooked. Because they thought well-done hamburger patties were inferior in terms of juiciness, texture, and flavor, some undercooked hamburgers to meet customer demand. Most food workers were unaware of the safe combinations of core temperature and time.

Most employees did not use a food thermometer to check doneness, but relied on indicators such as texture and color. When the temperature was taken on site, all medium and most medium burgers were found to be undercooked as they did not reach any of the safe temperature and time combinations.

When restaurants asked for well-done burgers, about one-fifth of them were still undercooked. This can endanger customers who inadvertently eat undercooked hamburgers. Other food vendors overcooked their patties when asked to make a well-done burger. This explains why they thought well-done burgers would be dry and diners would turn them down.

CFS said employees should use a food thermometer to make sure food’s internal temperature reaches a safe level within a certain amount of time. When ordering burgers in restaurants, consumers are advised to ask for them to be well done. If a restaurant serves an undercooked burger, it should be sent back to be thoroughly fried.

Unrelated outbreaks

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) also recently consulted on revised guidance for less elaborate beef burgers. Eighteen comments were received, some of which questioned the agency’s position.

The Hong Kong Food Safety Center also reported four outbreaks in June. One of them affected five men and six women aged 14 to 70 and was associated with steamed oysters or crabs. The food was contaminated with Vibrio parahaemolyticus and Norovirus. Another case involved three women aged 21 to 36 and was caused by scombrotoxin (histamine) in a tuna fillet.

One outbreak of salmonellosis affected four people aged 3 to 51 and was thought to be caused by grilling pork and fried rice with egg. Another also disgusted four people aged between 25 and 46 and was linked to tiramisu containing raw eggs.

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