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Friday, April 3, 1998 Published at 23:46 GMT 00:46 UK


Hamburger hell
image: [ A majority of sufferers ate out just before they fell ill ]
A majority of sufferers ate out just before they fell ill

A hamburger warning is being issued by government health experts after they linked cases of E-coli infection to restaurants, bars and fast food outlets.

The Public Health Laboratory Service is urging people to beware of restaurant burgers and send back any they suspect are undercooked.

PHLS scientists investigated possible sources of infection in 85 cases in England and Wales between 1994 and 1996, where people had become ill with the bacteria.

Take away with a deadly extra

They found that eating beefburgers from catering establishments was significantly associated with infection by E-coli 0157, the virulent strain of the bacteria.

[ image: The E-coli bacterium killed 20 people in Scotland in one outbreak]
The E-coli bacterium killed 20 people in Scotland in one outbreak
Of the 19 cases where people recalled eating burgers before falling ill, 14 involved commercial premises including restaurants, bars and mobile street stalls.

Cooked sliced meat, mostly from supermarkets, delicatessens and catering premises was linked with 49 cases. Only four involved butchers.

In 58 cases, people said they had eaten out before coming sick. Farm visits are another risk factor identified in the study.

Handling farm animals was associated with 20 cases and exposure to cattle or cattle faeces 15. Visiting a private farm was linked with 12 cases and living on a farm with eight.

In an article in The Lancet medical journal, the researchers are calling for better local food hygiene inspections.

A spokesman for the PHLS said: "The key message is that people who eat out should be prepared to send back undercooked burgers and ones that are pink in the middle. Also, people should be careful of salad bars with cold meats.

Top marks for Ronald

The researchers visited nine catering premises where people said they had eaten burgers before contracting E-coli.

[ image: McDonald's: best of those sampled but not perfect]
McDonald's: best of those sampled but not perfect
McDonald's was said to be the only commercial establishment visited where there was no significant association with E-coli infection.

It was praised for its cooking method - grilling the burger from the top and bottom simultaneously - which helped ensure the meat was safe.

Another unnamed fast food chain was criticised because the researchers said "burgers were cooked according to pre-determined cooking times but there was no obvious method of adhering to these times."

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