EFSA advises on meat spoilage during storage and transport

Continuing in the advice vein, the European Food Safety Authority is trying to balance safety and quality when transporting meat.

meat.and.you.simpsonsEFSA had previously advised on the implications for meat safety if two parameters – time and temperature – varied and provided several scenarios for ensuring safety of meat during storage and transport of meat. The Commission subsequently asked EFSA to consider what implications such scenarios would have for the growth of bacteria that cause meat to spoil.

“If the sole consideration was safety, policy makers would have more options on the table to pick from. However, scenarios that are acceptable in terms of safety may not be acceptable in terms of quality,” said Dr. Marta Hugas, Head of EFSA’s Biological Hazards and Contaminants unit.

Current legislation requires that carcasses are chilled to no more than 7C and that this temperature is maintained until mincing. The European Commission wants to revise this legislation to provide industry with more flexibility and asked EFSA’s scientific advice on safety and quality aspects.

Experts also said that effective hygienic measures during slaughter and processing help control contamination with spoilage bacteria.

Why color sucks: Eating pink chicken

Joe Sevier of Epicurious had unknowingly done me a favor, telling his food porn audience it’s OK to eat pink chicken, if it is temped for safety.

Suck on that Food Standards Scotland.

scotland.pinkchicken-fss_largeWe’ve been trained as a society to treat pink poultry like anathema. Some cooks even go so far as to overcook chicken on purpose. But what if I told you some pink poultry is safe to eat? Would you believe me?

Amazingly, it’s true. When I spoke to Dr. Greg Blonder, a physicist and co-author of Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling, he explained why some pinkness will never fade. And if no amount of checking the chicken’s temperature will assuage your squeamishness, he offered some tips to avoiding pink poultry before you even bring it home from the store.

What causes cooked meat to turn pink?

“The majority of chickens sold in stores today are between six to eight weeks old,” says Blonder. Young chickens have hollow bones that are thinner and more porous than their older brethren. When cooked, “the purple marrow—so colored due to the presence of myoglobin, a protein responsible for storing oxygen—leaks into the meat.” This reaction, in effect, stains the bone; the color of the meat adjacent to it will not fade regardless of the temperature to which it’s cooked.

What about pink flesh nearer the surface? Certain cooking techniques—especially ones that use lower cooking temperatures, such as smoking—exacerbate the pink meat reaction. That pink smoke ring that’s a telltale sign of good barbecue? Myoglobin again. In fact, you don’t even need smoke to achieve that smoke ring.

barfblog.Stick It InWhy is my chicken bloody in the first place?

Actually, it’s not. Blonder notes, “all commercially-sold chickens are drained of their blood during processing.” The pink, watery liquid you’re seeing is just that: water. The moisture that seeps from the chicken while it’s waiting for you to buy it mixes with that old rascal myoglobin, causing the pink “juices” that you see pooling around the packaged bird—it’s called myowater, FYI.

That same substance is what gushes forth when you cut into a cooking chicken to see if the juices run clear. Unfortunately, that’s a long-held measure of doneness that can’t be trusted. The only way to know if your bird is cooked through: a good quality thermometer. (Here’s the Epi favorite.) To check the temperature, stick the probe into the meatiest part of the bird—checking both the breast and thigh is a good idea. You’re looking for a finished temperature of 160ºF to 165ºF. Accounting for carry-over cooking and the size of whatever it is you’re cooking, that could mean pulling the chicken off the heat anywhere from 150ºF to 155ºF.

Whatever, pink meat still freaks me out

There are a couple of things you can do to avoid pink meat altogether.

First, debone the meat before it’s cooked. Without a myoglobin-y bone around to stain it, your chicken breast will be as pristinely white as possible.

Second, change the pH. A lot of factors are at play here, notes Blonder, and even the way an animal is slaughtered can significantly change the pH level (i.e. acidity) of its meat. Higher pH—i.e. lower acidity—means higher myoglobin and higher myoglobin means pink had better be your new obsession. If you’re not Steven Tyler, opt instead to marinate your meat in a marinade with a lot of citrus or vinegar. Introducing the meat to a high-acid environment will lower the pH and reduce the risk of that anxiety-inducing rosy hue.

Scotland, your overpaid food safety communications types got some explaining to do. If you can’t even get cooking chicken right, how can anyone believe your so-called science-based approach to food safety issues?

And every generation will have its Aerosmith. They aren’t the Stones or Floyd.

Don’t care, use a thermometer: Burger secret sweeping America

Common belief has been, according to Tristan Lutze, a Sydney-based food writer, that a good burger patty should be fat, juicy and pink inside. To cook it perfectly, you need a nicely oiled grill and a careful hand, taking care to never press on the burger and squeeze out those delicious juices.

ultrasmash.burgerColor is a lousy indicator and a tip-sensitive digital thermometer is required.

But there’s something of a burger rebellion happening on America’s east coast, and it’s beginning to spread.

The secret is a technique called “ultra-smashing”, a phrase coined by The Food Lab for a process that’s being used by burger superstars Harlem Shake in NYC, and the obsession-worthy Shake Shack.

With just a couple of pieces of equipment and a small piece of meat, it creates a flavour-packed burger in under a minute. Yes, in less than 60 seconds.

All you need is:

— A stainless steel pan, or BBQ hotplate. Your favourite non-stick pan WON’T work here.

— Any tool that will help you press down on the meat as hard as possible once it’s on the pan. A (new, washed) $10 stainless steel plastering trowel from a hardware store is perfect, and capable of much more pressure than a kitchen spatula.

— A scraper to dislodge the meat from the pan. A steel pastry scraper will work, but a joint knife or scraper from the hardware store is even better.

Heat the unoiled pan to nearly smoking and roll your mince (the fattier the better) into a 5cm diameter ball. Place the meat into the centre of the pan and immediately press down on the patty with the trowel or spatula, applying extra pressure with the scraper if needed.

Keep pushing as hard as you can until the meat is only a few millimetres thick.

Whatever the technique, a tip-sensitive digital thermometer, inserted sideways in this case, is still required.

Blame celebrity chefs and lack of thermometer use: Campy increases in undercooked chicken livers

In the United Kingdom, outbreaks of Campylobacter infection are increasingly attributed to undercooked chicken livers, yet many recipes, including those of top chefs, advocate short cooking times and serving livers pink.

chicken-liver-pate-2During 2015, we studied preferences of chefs and the public in the United Kingdom and investigated the link between liver rareness and survival of Campylobacter. We used photographs to assess chefs’ ability to identify chicken livers meeting safe cooking guidelines.

To investigate the microbiological safety of livers chefs they preferred to serve, we modeled Campylobacter survival in infected chicken livers cooked to various temperatures. Most chefs correctly identified safely cooked livers but overestimated the public’s preference for rareness and thus preferred to serve them more rare.

We estimated that 19%–52% of livers served commercially in the United Kingdom fail to reach 70°C and that predicted Campylobacter survival rates are 48%–98%. These findings indicate that cooking trends are linked to increasing Campylobacter infections.

Restaurant cooking trends and increased risk for Camplyobacter infection

Emerging Infectious Disease Journal, Volume 22, Number 7, July 2016, DOI: 10.3201/eid2207.151775

A.K. Jones, D. Rigby, M. Burton, C. Millman, N.J. Williams, T.R. Jones, P. Wigley, S.J. O’Brien, P. Cross

http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/22/7/15-1775_article

Burgers may need higher cooking temperature to be safe from E. coli

Food safety friend Lynn McMullen at the University of Alberta, and others have found that cooking ground beef at 71C — the level of heat long advised by Health Canada — does not always eliminate all the strains of Escherichia coli.

mcmullen.e.coli.hamburger“We’ve been hammering consumers for years to cook chicken properly, to handle it properly, and to do the same with ground beef but still we seem to have these outbreaks of E. coli (attributed to hamburgers),” said food microbiologist McMullen.

“Does this explain why? It might.”

McMullen, fellow food microbiologist Michael Gänzle, and several graduate students, first became aware of the inconsistent behaviour of E. coli eight years ago.

For decades, scientific papers about the thermal killing of microorganisms have noted that there were sometimes survivors. But little attention was paid to that information until 2008, when McMullen and Gänzle assigned a student to look for differences in thermal survival amongst organisms in a large collection of E. coli from beef, which the U of A happens to house.

The first student, Elena Dlusskaya, showed that one organism had survived for 70 minutes at 60C. Both professors felt her study must be flawed, because most E. coli are killed just a few seconds after such heat application. Repeating her experiments twice produced the same odd results.

Then Dlusskaya compared her cultures to those from other labs, which already had published survival values. Again, she found that some of the U of A’s cultures were behaving differently.

“These organisms aren’t supposed to survive, but every once in a while they do,” said McMullen. “So we decided to find out why. We looked at the genomes to see what was different.”

Working with postdoctoral fellow Ryan Mercer, they discovered a suite of 16 genes that are found only in the highly heat-resistant strains of E. coli under wet conditions (i.e. fresh meat). This genomic grouping is called the locus of heat resistance, or LHR.

Hunting through the genome databases for LHR, they saw that it exists in about two per cent of all E. coli in the databases and is present in both the harmless and pathogenic strains.

barfblog.Stick It In“If it’s in two per cent of all E. coli, and in pathogenic E.coli, there’s the potential that a pathogen could survive the standard cooking protocols for ground beef. It could mean we have to change the guidelines for cooking meat, because 71C may not be enough.”

Salt also makes E. coli bacteria heat resistant, though McMullen and the other researchers don’t know why.

Though McMullen and the other researchers haven’t discovered what temperature will ultimately kill all E. coli, McMullen recommended using a thermometer and cooking meat at 71 C to 73 C. “It doesn’t matter when you’re grilling any ground meat, you should be using a thermometer.”

Genetic determinants of heat resistance in Escherichia coli

Front Microbiol. 2015; 6: 932.

Published online 2015 Sep 9. doi:  10.3389/fmicb.2015.00932

Ryan G. Mercer, Jinshui Zheng, Rigoberto Garcia-Hernandez, Lifang Ruan, Michael G. Gänzle, and Lynn M. McMullen

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4563881/

Escherichia coli AW1.7 is a heat resistant food isolate and the occurrence of pathogenic strains with comparable heat resistance may pose a risk to food safety. To identify the genetic determinants of heat resistance, 29 strains of E. coli that differed in their of heat resistance were analyzed by comparative genomics. Strains were classified as highly heat resistant strains, exhibiting a D60-value of more than 6 min; moderately heat resistant strains, exhibiting a D60-value of more than 1 min; or as heat sensitive. A ~14 kb genomic island containing 16 predicted open reading frames encoding putative heat shock proteins and proteases was identified only in highly heat resistant strains. The genomic island was termed the locus of heat resistance (LHR). This putative operon is flanked by mobile elements and possesses >99% sequence identity to genomic islands contributing to heat resistance in Cronobacter sakazakii and Klebsiella pneumoniae. An additional 41 LHR sequences with >87% sequence identity were identified in 11 different species of β- and γ-proteobacteria. Cloning of the full length LHR conferred high heat resistance to the heat sensitive E. coli AW1.7ΔpHR1 and DH5α. The presence of the LHR correlates perfectly to heat resistance in several species of Enterobacteriaceae and occurs at a frequency of 2% of all E. coli genomes, including pathogenic strains. This study suggests the LHR has been laterally exchanged among the β- and γ-proteobacteria and is a reliable indicator of high heat resistance in E. coli.

National Chicken Council petitions FSIS for labelling law for frozen chicken thingies

Labels aren’t the same as risk communication. And it’s not clear how effective they are as behavior change vehicles.

Information and safe handling labels can provide the basics, if developed in a science-based manner, but as the National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection said in 2014, risk communication folks should really be involved in message crafting and evaluating effectiveness.

The frozen chicken thingie outbreaks are starting to matter. Like these two in 2015.Barber-Foods-stuffed-chicken-breasts

In an effort to ensure safe eating experiences and address potential consumer confusion, the National Chicken Council (NCC) has petitioned the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) for mandatory labelling of raw, stuffed chicken products that may appear cooked and ready-to-eat.

Specifically, NCC is requesting that the agency take the following actions:

Conduct a rulemaking to adopt a regulation requiring that not-ready-to-eat stuffed chicken breast products that appear ready-to-eat be prominently and uniformly labelled to clearly inform consumers that the products are raw and how to properly handle and cook them; and

Publish a Compliance Guideline explaining how to validate cooking instructions for not-ready-to-eat stuffed chicken breast products that appear ready-to-eat, which incorporates NCC’s “Best Practices for Cooking Instruction Validation for Frozen NRTE Stuffed Chicken Breast Products.”

“NCC increasingly is aware that some consumers may be uncertain of the proper handling and cooking methods for not-ready-to-eat stuffed chicken breast products that may appear ready-to-eat, and the proposed measures are necessary to ensure proper handling and cooking of these products,” said NCC President Mike Brown in the petition.

“This labelling would clearly inform consumers that these products are raw and require proper cooking while providing specific and uniform instructions on how to cook the products.”

FSIS has had labeling guidance out for a while. Making it a rule will help with consistency of info but it’s not a magic bullet.

Oh, and this:

Self-reported and observed behavior of primary meal preparers and adolescents during preparation of frozen, uncooked, breaded chicken products
01.nov.09
British Food Journal, Vol 111, Issue 9, p 915-929
Sarah DeDonder, Casey J. Jacob, Brae V. Surgeoner, Benjamin Chapman, Randall Phebus, Douglas A. Powell
http://www.emeraldinsight.com/Insight/viewContentItem.do;jsessionid=6146E6AFABCC349C376B7E55A3866D4A?contentType=Article&contentId=1811820
Abstract:
Purpose – The purpose of the present study was to observe the preparation practices of both adult and young consumers using frozen, uncooked, breaded chicken products, which were previously involved in outbreaks linked to consumer mishandling. The study also sought to observe behaviors of adolescents as home food preparers. Finally, the study aimed to compare food handler behaviors with those prescribed on product labels.
Design/methodology/approach – The study sought, through video observation and self-report surveys, to determine if differences exist between consumers’ intent and actual behavior.
Findings – A survey study of consumer reactions to safe food-handling labels on raw meat and poultry products suggested that instructions for safe handling found on labels had only limited influence on consumer practices. The labels studied by these researchers were found on the packaging of chicken products examined in the current study alongside step-by-step cooking instructions. Observational techniques, as mentioned above, provide a different perception of consumer behaviors.
Originality/value – This paper finds areas that have not been studied in previous observational research and is an excellent addition to existing literature.

Hucksters abound: orangoutangs and gluten instead of real food safety

I learned so much from Dr. Jonny Bower, PhD’s KCRA segment on food safety for grilling.

Like preserving orangoutang habitats. Marinade to stay safe from acrylamide. Protect against gluten. Use a proprietary blend of probiotics. Add lots of spices.Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 2.46.38 PM

Too bad the good doctor didn’t mix in a thermometer. Or talk about cross-contamination.

I couldn’t get the video to embed, check out the full segment here.

Food Safety Talk 100: No buns in the bathroom

Food Safety Talk, a bi-weekly podcast for food safety nerds, by food safety nerds. The podcast is hosted by Ben Chapman and barfblog contributor Don Schaffner, Extension Specialist in Food Science and Professor at Rutgers University.  Every two weeks or so, Ben and Don get together virtually and talk for about an hour.1459283728049

They talk about what’s on their minds or in the news regarding food safety, and popular culture. They strive to be relevant, funny and informative — sometimes they succeed. You can download the audio recordings right from the website, or subscribe using iTunes.1461946810971

Episode 100 can be found here and on iTunes.

Here is a bulleted list of link to the topics mentioned on the show:

Trump, castes, and microbial food safety

Roberto A. Ferdman and Christopher Ingraham, reporters for the Washington Post, write there are few things as regrettable as a steak well done.

idiocracy_thumbCooking meat to the point of leathery toughness dulls the flavor, among many other things. “Forgive my snobbishness, but well-done meat is dry and flavorless,” Mark Bittman wrote in 2007, imploring people to serve hamburgers “rare, or at most medium rare.”

What Bittman actually said was, “if you grind your own beef, you can make a mixture and taste it raw,” adding that, “To reassure the queasy, there’s little difference, safety-wise, between raw beef and rare beef: salmonella is killed at 160 degrees, and rare beef is cooked to 125 degrees.”

This is food safety idiocracy: Using Bittman to prop up an argument is silly.

The authors continue by commenting on the gastro habits of Donald Trump, who apparently likes his steak well-done.

This, more than anything else Trump has ssaid or done, brings him into ridicule.

A 2014 survey by 538 found that fully one-quarter of Americans said they liked their steak done “well” or “medium-well.”  Is this Trump’s base? Hard to tell, since there weren’t enough steak-eaters in the 538 survey to break out demographic groups. But we can turn instead to a 2012 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair survey that asked 1,000 Americans how they liked their burgers done.

The results shock the conscience. Thirty-six percent of respondents said they liked their burgers well done, making that the most popular response. Another 29 percent liked medium burgers, 19 percent prefer medium-rare, and only 4 percent cook their burgers rare.

Digging into the demographics, a few interesting patterns stand out. First, preference for overcooked meat is strongly correlated with age. Forty-six percent of senior citizens prefer their burgers well done, compared to only 27 percent of those aged 18 to 29.

The less-educated are also more likely to prefer well done burgers – 47 percent of those with a high school education or less like their burgers well done, compared to only 25 percent of those with a college or advanced degree.

barfblog.Stick It InThere’s a similar relationship with income, with people in higher-income households less likely to overcook their burgers than people in low-income households.

These are the same demographics as anti-vaxxers, raw-milk connoisseurs and anti-GMO types.

And surveys still suck.

Hamburger should be cooked to 165F, steak 140F, as verified with a tip-sensitive digital thermometer.

No amount of flowery put-downs or caste-style insults will change the safety data.

Thermometers an afterthought: UK wants views on rare burgers advice

The UK Food Standards Agency has made a begrudgingly acknowledgement to thermometers, but still insists on color to tell if burgers are done.

barfblog.Stick It InThe growing popularity of burgers served pink has led the FSA to develop the advice on rare burgers. It is aimed at helping businesses meet consumer demand for rare burgers while keeping customers protected. Burgers that aren’t thoroughly cooked can contain bacteria that cause food poisoning if the right controls aren’t in place.

In September 2015, the FSA Board agreed a number of controls that food businesses serving burgers pink will need to have in place to demonstrate that they are maintaining customer safety. The new advice sets the options out and they include:

  • sourcing the meat only from establishments which have specific controls in place to minimise the risk of contamination of meat intended to be eaten raw or lightly cooked;
  • ensuring that the supplier carries out appropriate testing of raw meat to check that their procedures for minimising contamination are working;
  • sStrict temperature control to prevent growth of any bugs and appropriate preparation and cooking procedures;
  • notifying their local authority that burgers that aren’t thoroughly cooked are being served by the business; and,
  • providing advice to consumers, for example on menus, regarding the additional risk.

chipotle.BSThe draft advice is for caterers and local authorities only and the FSA’s long-standing advice to consumers is unchanged: burgers prepared at home should be cooked thoroughly until they are steaming hot throughout, the juices run clear and there is no pink meat left inside. If using a temperature probe or cooking thermometer, make sure the middle of the burgers reaches a temperature of 70⁰C for 2 minutes.

hamburger-safe and unsafe-thumb-450x138-175