News & Updates

New report addresses knowledge gaps in microbial quality of beef mince sold in Scotland

Food Standards Scotland (FSS) has published a new report designed to address knowledge gaps around the microbial quality of beef mince sold in Scotland.

The survey, conducted in 2019 with 1,009 samples of beef mince on retail sale across the country, had three core objectives:

  • To determine the overall presence of three significant microbiological pathogens and two process hygiene indicators in Scottish beef mince.
  • To identify levels of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in microbes found in beef mince sold in Scotland; and
  • To identify any differences (e.g. seasonal or geographic) associated with increased likelihood of microbial contamination.

The survey found levels of Campylobacter at 0.1% and Salmonella 0.3%, and Shigatoxigenic Escherichia coli (STEC) at 3.5% contamination in the products tested.

It also found that the detected STECs varied in their severity, with some associated with causing the most severe forms of human illness.

Dr Marianne James, Head of Risk Assessment at Food Standards Scotland, said:

“The levels of microbiological quality were encouraging, and in line with similar studies in other countries in the past.

“Additionally, the study also identified no significant differences between confirmed STEC and all tested factors, such as season, geographical location, or retailer type.

 “The levels of AMR in beef mince were low, and any resistance found was to commonly used, first line antibiotics. This provides some reassurance that fresh beef mince on retail sale in Scotland is unlikely to currently be a major foodborne route for transmission from cattle to humans of AMR to critically important antimicrobials.

“Against that background, adherence to cooking instructions on all beef mince packaging and strict hygiene when handling raw mince, remains important to avoid any potential illness associated with the product.”

FSS worked closely with Scotland’s Rural College on the project and George Gunn, Head of Veterinary Epidemiology at SRUC, said: “Our survey provided a baseline understanding of the microbiological status of fresh minced beef on retail sale in Scotland while also identifying gaps in our knowledge and the evidence base.”

Beef mince sold in Scotland is not intended to be eaten raw or less than thoroughly cooked. Unless the food packaging says otherwise, you should thoroughly cook your mince. Follow all cooking instructions on the food packaging and wash your hands immediately after handling raw mince. If in doubt, consult the FSS website on safe cooking of food at home.

Funding for the survey was provided by Food Standards Scotland. The project was awarded to Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), with project partners, the three Scientific Services laboratories at Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow; the two Scottish Microbiologial Reference Laboratories (SMiRL) at Edinburgh (Scottish E. coli O157 & STEC Reference Laboratory, SERL) and Glasgow (Scottish Salmonella, Shigella & C. difficile Reference Laboratory) and the Univeristy of Aberdeen.

The project team would also like to thank the network of sample collectors and all retailers and producers for their cooporation with the survey.