A Moncton restaurateur was shocked when he received a notice from the Department of Health saying he was violating New Brunswick food regulations by offering beef tartare.
Luc Doucet, the owner and executive chef of the Black Rabbit, was told he isn't allowed to serve beef tartare, which is made from raw ground beef, or to serve ground beef cooked medium or rare.
He was ordered to cease immediately.
Doucet said it's hard to get clear answers from the Department of Health. He believed he was allowed to serve medium or rare ground beef as long as he took safety precautions and ground the meat in-house.
"We're not clear why this came out," he said, suggesting someone may have complained. "To my knowledge, nobody got sick in the province."
In fact, his restaurant is one of 11 in the province served with notices in the past month under the Food Premises Regulation, which sets minimum temperature requirements for beef, pork and poultry. There are special provisions for sushi and sou vide dishes.
Health Department spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane said in an email that the notices to restaurants were not provoked by any illnesses.
"They are issued because of general food safety concerns, as eating raw or lightly cooked meats may increase the risk of food poisoning."
Minimum cooking temperatures have been common in Canada, but not in the United States, where rare hamburgers are readily available.
Public Health can help
Macfarlane suggested some things in the New Brunswick regulation could change.
"It is recognized that there are an increasing number of processes and types of foods that are attractive to New Brunswickers that would not always meet this requirement," he said.
"The Department is assessing options for future actions that may permit a more broad scope of practice."
He also said individual establishments should work with Public Health to make sure what they serve meets the intent of the cooking regulation.
Doucet said his menu changes quite often, so the notice didn't greatly affect his operations, but it is something that needs to be addressed.
"It was more the ideology of it," he said.
Doucet said he still has questions about what he's allowed to serve.
"It's tricky, the wording is very vague, it just says 'beef tartare etcetera,' is that carpaccio [a thinly sliced meat served raw]? I don't know."
Doucet said beef tartare isn't for everybody, but it's fun, and it's a classic dish served around the world.
It's often featured on the restaurant's tasting menu, which gives people who've never tried it the chance to.
He said chefs do have to be careful when making beef tartare because they are dealing with raw meat, but he has never seen anyone get sick from eating it.
Doucet said he thinks the regulation is outdated.
"We're in 2021, we just passed a pandemic, I think it's time to kind of look over a few of these rules that no longer apply."