19 April 2017

Let us choose how rare our burgers are

By Olumayowa Okediran

Should we be free to eat what we want? The British government doesn’t seem to think so. It requires that your favourite restaurants must obtain special permission to serve you your favourite burger.

Last month, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) implemented a new set of regulations that dictate how all food businesses must serve minced meat products (such as burgers). Businesses must now obtain specific approval to serve anything different from what the FSA regards as “thoroughly cooked”. This new requirement is applicable in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland (different regulations apply to Scotland). If a restaurant is caught violating these new regulations, it will either be served a notice or immediately prosecuted.

According to the agency, the new regulations are meant to prevent infections by bacteria like E. Coli. Bacteria are likely to be found on the outside surfaces of meat and can be spread to an entire burger when minced during preparation. According to a report by a committee called the Advisory Committee on Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF), cooking at 70℃ for two minutes at the centre of the meat or 75 ℃ for 30 seconds is sufficient to drastically reduce such pathogens.

The FSA has made it illegal to serve rare burgers unless the following steps are taken:

– Sourcing meat from premises that are approved under EU law to supply minced meat intended to be eaten raw or lightly cooked.

– Using a supplier with sampling and testing regimes that would identify pathogens including Salmonella and E. Coli O157.

– Showing how the burgers would be prepared and cooked to reduce the possibility of 10 million E. Coli to a maximum of 10 E. Coli after cooking. This would probably need to be assessed in a laboratory as well as in practice, and could be expensive.

– Reconsidering preparation methods such as sear and shave, in which the outside of a large piece of meat is heat-treated partly shaved off. The rest is then treated as virtually “ready-to-eat” and kept free of contamination. This may not work in small kitchens and could introduce cross-contamination hazards.

– Producing evidence that cooking times and temperatures have been monitored accurately.

The FSA doesn’t just want to control where restaurants get their meat from; it also wants to control how they cook it. This means that any novel idea a restauranteur might have about rare burgers must be sent to the agency for approval before they can serve it to their customers, who will not get to enjoy such culinary innovations unless the government allows it.

This is yet another example of how the nanny state regulates almost everything we do. How food is cooked or served should not be micromanaged by the government. We are perfectly capable of determining whether a food is potentially harmful to us. We do not need the state to control what we eat in the name of protecting us. No sane restaurant would serve food that is injurious to the health of its customers.

Government interference not only increases the cost of production, but also introduces barriers to innovation in the food industry that could harm its growth. The meals affected by these new regulations have previously been served to countless customers without interference, and there’s no need to introduce pointless hindrances into a system that has been effectively governed by market forces.

Restaurants are already regulated by their reputation, and in a world of increasingly effective feedback mechanisms like social media, people falling ill from food served in a restaurant translates into significantly reduced profits. Food businesses already try to operate to very high standards and do not need government to teach them how to cook their beef.

Olumayowa Okediran is African Programs Director at Students For Liberty, the largest network of libertarian students in the world.