Don't get in a pickle this National Burger Day

Stuart Fuller

The food labeling scandal of 2013 gave many of us in the UK a shock, knowing that meat bought from some of the most trusted brands may not have contained exactly what the label said. The incident led to a number of reforms, and new regulations governing the meat production industry, which should give us confidence that we’re eating what we think we’re eating on National Burger Day.

In most geographies, food standards and hygiene levels have never been more stringent than they are today. In UK restaurants, cafes, bars and fast food joints, the rating system (a score out of five) is often seen displayed on the windows of the establishment. But here’s where the law lets down consumers to some extent: in England and Northern Ireland, an establishment is not required by law to display the information, whereas in Wales it is. Scotland has its own scheme with different rules, meaning a confused state of affairs within the United Kingdom.

Unsurprisingly, there have been cases of some establishments displaying fake certificates. As the window stickers simply show a score and no personalization, an owner could ask or pay another owner who has a higher score to simply give them their rating sticker.

The Food Standards Authority itself acknowledges it’s a problem: “Displaying a fraudulent rating is easy for food businesses to do, but local authorities display food hygiene ratings on the FSA website, so consumers can check the authenticity of a rating. There are currently no checks in place to stop fraudulent score claims.” I doubt someone would really question an establishment with a high score, unless they see or develop a health issue after the fact, which defeats the object of the whole process.

Of course, we could always rely on peer reviews to determine how good our burger joint is, but even then we have to be wary of ‘fliking’ – the practice of fake liking and reviewing. It doesn’t take much research to find organizations that are willing to provide fake, or at least unsubstantiated, positive reviews on establishments, which again can mislead hungry diners on the quality and hygiene levels of a take-away or restaurant.

So, not only do we have to choose where we’re going to enjoy our burger today, but we also need to be mindful of what goes into it. Although the regulations that govern where meat is sourced from and how it is labeled have been reformed in the past few years, other ingredients in our burgers may be a cause for concern.

Last year, an investigation into high street pizza take-aways in Derbyshire found that half of those sampled were using a cheese substitute rather than the real deal, whilst in recent months the FDA in the US has discovered wood filler in cheese that was labeled as being genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano. Parmesan is now the most-imitated cheese in the world; according to Coldiretti (the Italian national farmers’ organization), the production of fake Parmesan exceeded the real Parmigiano-Reggiano in 2014.

So, whilst we’re all keen to enjoy National Burger Day to the fullest, spare a thought about where you indulge and what extras you ask for.