Burger-gate over - New Zealand bureaucrats burned to a crisp over new rules
But MPs insist there were always exemptions for specialists outlets
By David Fisher
Burger-gate is over - the threat to medium-rare burger patties is gone.
Steak tartare, carpaccio and other uncooked or rarely-cooked fare will also be allowed onto the menu in New Zealand after bureaucrats found a way for the nation to dine as it wishes.
The shift came today after under-fire bureaucrats at the Ministry for Primary Industries clarified its stance over minced meats and liver.
It followed an outpouring of frustration from the Duke Of Marlborough Hotel’s award-winning chef Dan Fraser who felt forced to pull the Governor’s Burger with its medium-rare pattie from the menu.
New food regulations largely developed to deal with food cooked in fast-food joints had been also been presented to thousands of restaurants, dictating cooking processes which would have stopped Fraser and others from cooking patties on a barbecue grill.
The backlash had MPI’s director Peter Thomson explaining that there was no need for any restaurant to change, as long as chefs could show food inspectors that they could produce food for customers that was safe to eat.
Thomson said the generic guidelines which had been distributed also allowed for particular types of food to be served outside the rules.
He said the generic guidelines did not account for specialist outlets or restaurants which prepared food in a particular way, but there was room to do so.
“It is designed for the average places rather than places that do something special. We have offered to work with chefs to develop a bespoke food control plan or to develop a new section to go into the template.”
He said no special guidelines existed for minced meat at this stage but MPI had started work on a new template that would allow chefs to prepare food as they had - as long as it could be shown safe to eat.
“Cooking is a good final step for managing risk,” he said, but there were other methods which included the sourcing of produce and the handling and storage of raw ingredients.
”If you step back all processes and manage all steps of contamination, then you can cook meat and have the risk of the meat at a very low level.”
He said it wasn’t a change prompted by publicity because the opportunity for restaurants to develop bespoke plans had existed at the time the new guidelines were rolled out.
“It looks like some restaurants have been working on the template plan. Any food business has a lot of things to think about and maybe they missed some of our messaging sometimes.”
Minister for Food Safety David Bennett said MPI’s rule were not about taking away choice but keeping people safe.
”I am pleased to hear the situation has been clarified in this case. I want people to be able to eat a full spectrum of food, just in a safe way.”
”I look forward to trying one of the famous Duke of Marlborough’s signature burgers.”
The move by MPI to regulate chefs’ kitchens brought howls of outrage and ridicule from those interviewed by the NZ Herald.
Labour’s Damien O’Connor said it was `”ridiculous overkill”.
”We’ve got strict controls on how you kill and process meat. To then look at the cooking of it is nanny-state gone mad.”
O’Connor said he had eaten at the Duke of Marlborough just over a year ago and had slow-roasted lamb that was “sublime”.
”I would trust that chef any time to cook the meat in the way that delivers the finest and safest food for anyone.”
Northland MP Winston Peters, who has eaten at the Duke of Marlborough often over the years, said ”paternalistic bureaucrats” were killing New Zealand businesses.
He had written to Primary Industries minister Nathan Guy to tell him to “show some steel for a change and roll back this regulatory nonsense”.
Fraser told the Herald that MPI appeared to have not consulted widely enough with chefs to understand the problem they were causing.
The new generic rules stated minced food and livers needed to be cooked at high temperatures for longer than previously to eliminate any chance of contamination.
Food safety inspectors have recommended a number of ways of eliminating risk, which Fraser had rejected as doing such awful things to food he would rather not serve it.