CHARLOTTE — If youre a burger fan in North Carolina, you just got a big step closer to being able to say Make it rare.
The N.C. Commission for Public Health this week approved the adoption of most of the 2009 federal food code. Among other changes, it would allow restaurant customers to order raw or undercooked foods if the restaurant provides a warning usually a note on the menu to remind you its dangerous. A similar procedure is already followed in many states, including South Carolina.
Larry Michael, the head of the food protection branch of the N.C. Division of Environmental Health, warns that the new rules havent passed yet. They have to clear a review commission June 21 and wouldnt take affect until at least Sept. 1, just in time for the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. But the change has cleared the biggest hurdle, he said Thursday.
This really does represent the largest comprehensive change in our food safety rules in over 30 years.
How big is that? Its so big that when we called chef-owner Tom Condron at The Liberty, a pub known for its burgers, he was actually willing to come to the phone during the lunch rush.
About time, he said happily. The quality of beef and the preparation have come so far. Its about time North Carolina stepped up. For restaurants like us and others that grind in-house and take all the steps to make sure we get top-quality beef, its an important change.
Michael says adopting the federal food code allows North Carolina to use the latest research in forming its own food safety standards.
The majority of states use it, he said. Its the most comprehensive standard out there.
If it passes, it will bring more changes than just your burger order. Among others, it will ban bare-hand contact with prepared foods, meaning restaurant workers will have to wear gloves or use tongs when they handle ready-to-eat foods.
But the big one, Michael admitted, is the standard on allowing customers to request raw or undercooked foods. As it is now, undercooked burgers are often served to customers even though the restaurant isnt supposed to do it a sort of wink-and-nudge approach to food safety.
What the new regulation would do is put the decision into the hands of the consumer. The restaurant would have to tell you that youre ordering a food that isnt cooked to a safe level and it has to tell you that eating undercooked or raw foods puts you at a risk of foodborne illness, such as salmonella.
The federal code still recommends cooking ground beef to an internal temperature of 155 degrees, and the rule prohibits serving undercooked or raw foods to children.
Just raising the level of information is expected to lower the risk, Michael says.
This consumer advisory will be more helpful in ensuring consumers know theyre increasing their risk.