99 Station Street

On my high horse



Two recent stories in the press really got my attention this week. The main one is the controversy around horsemeat being detected in products labelled as beefburgers. It wasn’t even a trace or contamination but about 29% of the product contained horse DNA. There are two real problems here; first the label didn’t have any mention of horsemeat and secondly, the scarey bit, the traceability of the meat was falsified. From birth to death all cattle must have a “passport” which must go with them when they are transported. If the herd is at risk from disease they can be banned from movement or even put down. This works out that an animal with a clean bill of health from a herd with no problems can make its way to the abattoir. From there the carcasses are controlled and recorded. In the meat processing plant, this control goes all the way to the finished package. You know you have a particular species in the packet and documentation showing which carcasses got used in each batch by who.

The rules on burgers are very clear,  a minimum of 62% of a named meat must be used (47% for economy burgers). A percentage of each meat must be shown and then any other ingredients listed, but not necessarily by amount unless over certain tolerances.

Some examples from a supermarket website (not one involved in the current scandal though)

Basic hamburger: Beef (39%), Pork (39%), Water, Onion, Rusk
Their premium steak burger: Beef (93%), Onion (4%), Rapeseed Oil
Lamb burger: Lamb (86%), Mint (6%), Onion, Seasoning

So given the above clear labels, why did close to one third of horse end up in the other chains burgers?

The second story.

Westminster council are alleged to have gone on a crackdown on rare burgers. An example of one of the stories comes from The London Evening Standard. Like any good story there are two sides. Westminster contend that there is a known risk in rare meat caused by E.coli. This particularly nasty pathogen comes from the ground, through the digestive tract and on slaughter could contaminate the outside of the carcasses. Any restaurant buying their mince in, could have some traces of E.coli as the pathogen has been ground from the outside into the product. If so, then this meat needs to be cooked to safe temperature to kill the bug. Then you no longer have a rare burger. The restaurants in question argued that many places serve steak tartare which is either raw chopped or minced beef. At this point it does seem a bit harsh. Now when the council managed to get a word in edgeways it makes common sense. If you use a whole cut of meat and sear the outside, you have mitigated the E.coli risk. After this, shave off the seared layer if you want, but it’s all ready to mince or chop for rare or raw.

The moral of these tales?

If you want a burger you can trust; know your butcher, buy you whole beef from them, sear it and mince it yourself, then make your own.