Davy’s of London successfully appealed a hygiene improvement notice issued by Westminster City Council concerning the sale of rare and medium rare hamburgers. The appeal was on the grounds that the company had acceptable measures in place to serve such hamburgers.
The judge recognised, “there is a balance to be struck between ensuring the safety of the public and allowing them the freedom of choice that they would wish and have a right to expect”. This ‘freedom of choice’ should of course apply to the UK as well as other European countries where a significant quantity of raw or undercooked minced beef is consumed (and that is why there is an EC regulatory standard for such mince).
Davy’s control measures have been set-up by Povey & Co, following a comprehensive risk assessment. The mince used to produce hamburgers by Davy’s is obtained from an EC approved establishment, (i.e. approved and supervised by the FSA), which has an exemplary record, in terms of the microbiological quality of its products and the production environment. The mince is made from prime cuts and complies with the microbiological criteria for mince intended to be eaten raw or undercooked, under Regulation EC 2073/2005: there is no higher regulatory standard. Davy’s own procedures ensure product safety is not compromised.
The ‘sear and shave’ alternative advocated by Westminster’s EHOs is not generally popular with the catering industry since it creates further stages of raw meat handling, increasing the potential for cross-contamination within the kitchen environment and does not guarantee the elimination of risk, (plus there is a high percentage of waste).
HACCP allows options to manage and minimize risk but unfortunately there are a few enforcement officers who are inflexible and dictatorial with its application: by rigidly applying the principles of HACCP, the sale of raw and lightly-cooked agricultural and fishery products, whether animal or vegetable, could be subject to enforcement action because there is always a potential risk of contamination of such products with E. coli 0157 and other dangerous pathogens.
HACCP is about the control of risks by following a reasonable and realistic approach to risk management, otherwise we would end-up boiling all salad and cooking everything to a cinder, causing the disappearance of much traditional European cuisine, plus the amendment of hundreds of recipes!
And there is the inconsistency in Professor Pennington’s argument: if his mission is to ban rare hamburgers presumably he is also considering the same pronouncement on dishes/foods such as steak tartare, unpasteurised cheese, organically-grown fruits and vegetables and, of course, not forgetting salads, particularly since he is on record of having stated that ready-to-eat salad is more dangerous that beefburgers!
Enforcement officers must be commercially aware and understand cuisine, working with the food industry to apply appropriate and proportionate controls. Arrogance and ‘bully-boy’ tactics have no place in my profession, otherwise any respect and status that we have as an authoritative body will be undermined.
Paul Povey MCIEH
Managing Director, Povey and Co
The horsemeat scandal has shown that long and convoluted supply chains leave themselves open to fraud, coupled with the fact that there is an over-reliance on documentation, including the ‘tick-box’ culture, to verify authenticity. What happened to visual inspection?
Local authority enforcement officers generally have limited training in practical meat inspection and, therefore, may be out of their comfort zone to identify and investigate incidents of illegal meat.