Do pop-up thermometers work? I don’t trust them

The Brits, known for there aversion of food thermometers – make mine steaming hot – have decide to promote a new Pop Up® disposable cooking thermometer timer device for use with all the turkeys being sold over the counter this year.

chicken.cook.thermometerThe timers are designed  to release a red button exactly when the bird has reached its optimum level of doneness at the thickest part of the meat, thus eliminating the annual ‘turkey guesswork’ and assuring a perfectly cooked and safe product.

I use a tip—sensitive digital thermometer because nothing can be more idiot-proof.

There was some group in Guelph (that’s in Ontario, Canada) that provided such advice 11 years ago,

But university beurotypes are forced to go after the easy dollar and cleaned me out for about $750K.

Whatever, I got to meet and marry Amy.

And then Kansas State University cleaned me out for $200K because, as a full professor, I got fired for bad attendance.

But back to the basics: do pop-up thermometers work?

Friend of the barfblog.com, Don Schaffner, provided a relevant reference:

Temperature histories at critical points and recommended cooking time for whole turkeys baked in a conventional oven

H.C. Chang, J.A. Carpenter, and R.T. Toledo

Time-temperature histories and cooking times were determined for turkeys bake at162.8°Cf rom4.44°Ct to an endpoint of82.2°C in the thigh joint or breast.Tur- keys(128)  infiveweightclassesfrom5.9to10.8kg(0.9kgincrements)were equallydividedintofresh,frozen,stuffed,unstuffed,and cooked shielded orunsheilded groups. The slowest heating point was either the wing joint or stuff- inggeometriccenter.Cooking time for unsheilded turkeys was 155min plus11 min/kg,unstuffed,and200minplus8.8min/kg,stuffed.

amy.thermometerMedian cooking loss was 23%.Shielding of breasts prolonged cooking time.The cooking end point of f82.2°C in the thigh joint provided adequate lethality against Salmonella in the slowest heating points of both stuffed and unstuffedbirds.

 

JOURNAL OF FOOD SCIENCE—Volume 63, No. 2, 1998

USDA says no to raw meat; Japan to ban raw pork, ‘liver sashimi’ at restaurants

As the U.S. Department of Agriculture reminds consumers to avoid raw meat, Japan’s health ministry will ban all raw pork, including raw pork liver, from restaurants because of the “major health risks” it can pose, sources said.

kibbeh_banned_windsor_jun__12_featuredThe ministry’s move will be based on the recommendation of a specialist research panel of the Food Safety Commission, which is under the Cabinet Office.

The panel started discussions on the adequacy of raw pork served at restaurants after a deadly food poisoning outbreak involving raw beef dishes. Panel members on Dec. 10 concluded that uncooked pork should not be served to customers.

The health ministry will revise codes of the food sanitation law to stipulate the ban on serving raw pork at restaurants and other eateries.

Violators of the ban will face business suspension orders and other administrative penalties, the sources said.

In 2012, the government banned raw beef liver for consumption, a popular item at yakiniku barbeque restaurants and izakaya Japanese pubs, following a series of food poisoning cases from raw beef. Some establishments switched to raw pork liver.

USDA says that raw meat dishes like tartare may be more common this time of year, but they still come with health risks.

raw.pork.japan“Tiger meat” is another traditional winter dish. Despite the name, this dish is not made using meat from tigers. It’s a holiday mixture of raw ground beef, raw eggs, onions and other seasonings served on rye bread or crackers. Beef tartare, tiger meat, and dishes alike have ground beef and eggs that pose a health hazard when eaten undercooked or raw.

Raw ground beef has been associated with several large outbreaks of foodborne illness. In 2012, an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that sickened 17 people in Wisconsin was caused by this traditional dish.

Most bacteria in meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs can be killed by thorough cooking. To prevent illness, ground beef should always be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 °F. The only way to tell if the temperature is right is with a food thermometer. Color is not an accurate indicator that ground beef is fully cooked. Also, if you’re cooking another dish like meatballs or meatloaf, remember not to try any of the dishes before cooking, even if you just want to taste the seasoning.

Aussies getting the thermometer message; when will the Brits?

ABC News Australia reports that chicken is Australia’s favorite meat.

chicken.bbq.thermometerThe story goes with the just-cook-it-approach and ignores cross-contamination (isn’t there a better term? I say be the bug, but there’s lots of marketing geniuses out there), but at least Dr Duncan Craig, the principal microbiologist with Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), says, “It’s about making sure that the center of the poultry meat gets up to a high enough temperature that would kill off the Campylobacter. So the advice that we put out is that the temperature should be up around 75 degrees [on the inside],” Craig says.

The best way to test whether poultry has been cooked to the right temperature is to use a meat thermometer; Craig says this is especially the case when you’re cooking a large bird such as a turkey.

“I was a skeptic but I use one at home and it actually is really quite effective, and on the converse it saves you from over cooking the poultry, just as much as making sure it’s cooked properly,” Craig says.

Someone’s been reading my soundbites – or not – but it’s gratifying to see the Aussies gravitate towards evidence-based advice, rather than what the Brits offer up: juices run clear and piping hot.

barfblog.Stick It InIn the past, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand has found 84 per cent of chicken carcasses tested positive to Campylobacter (22 per cent tested positive to salmonella, another common cause of food poisoning).

Regarding cross-contamination, Dr. Craig says, “I’ve rescued a number of mates who have brought out the plate of marinated chicken skewers and popped them on the barbie. They then cook them to within an inch of their life and go to put them back on the plate, which had the raw chicken meat and the marinade on it.”

UK supermarkets named and shamed over Campylobacter on chicken contamination

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has published the cumulative results from the first two quarters of its year-long survey of campylobacter on fresh chickens.

FunkyChickenHiIndividual results by major retailer have also been published.

Retailers aren’t happy.

One of the companies that has helped develop a way to flash freeze the surface of birds to kill campylobacter bacteria after slaughter, Bernard Matthews, said that retailers had been resistant to the extra cost, which is about 4-5p per bird.

However, the Co-op, Marks & Spencer, Asda and Sainsbury’s all told the Guardian they were supporting the trials of technology which rapidly chills or steams the surface of a chicken to significantly reduce levels of campylobacter.

Tesco said it would be helping to fund a full-scale trial of rapid chill technology with one of its suppliers from January to test feasibility on a commercial scale.

Andrew Large, chief executive of the British Poultry Council, which represents the largest producers and processors, said the industry was focusing on about 10 measures that looked promising, but he warned that there was “no silver bullet” to end campylobacter contamination.

The results to date show:

18% of chickens tested positive for campylobacter above the highest level of contamination

70% of chickens tested positive for the presence of campylobacter

6% of packaging tested positive for the presence of campylobacter with only one sample at the highest level of contamination (>1,000 cfu/g)

chicken* Above 1,000 colony forming units per gram (>1,000 cfu/g). These units indicate the degree of contamination on each sample.

In total, 1,995 samples of fresh whole chilled chickens have now been tested, with packaging also tested for most of these samples. Data show variations between retailers but none are meeting the end-of-production target for reducing campylobacter.

This 12-month survey, running from February 2014 to February 2015, will test 4,000 samples of whole chickens bought from UK retail outlets and smaller independent stores and butchers.

Campylobacter is killed by thorough cooking; however it is the most common form of food poisoning in the UK, affecting an estimated 280,000 people a year. Poultry is the source of the majority of these cases.

But-just-cook-it doesn’t cut it and fails to account for cross-contamination.

In response, a number of retailers have introduced ‘roast in the bag’ chickens which help limit cross-contamination by minimizing the handling of the raw chicken in the home.

The FSA advises that the data for individual retailers have to be interpreted carefully. Confidence intervals are given for each retailer and the ‘others’ category. These show the likely range of the results allowing for the number of samples taken.

At this half-way stage in the survey the results show, taking the confidence intervals into account, that Tesco is the only one of the main retailers which has a lower incidence of chicken contaminated with campylobacter at the highest level (>1,000 cfu/g), compared to the industry average. Asda is the only main retailer which has a higher incidence of chicken that is contaminated by campylobacter at the highest level, compared to the industry average. However, the results suggest that none of the retailers is achieving the joint industry end-of-production target for reducing campylobacter.

chicken.thermAnd what FSA chicken advice would be complete without a recommendation to  “make sure chicken is steaming hot all the way through before serving. Cut in to the thickest part of the meat and check that it is steaming hot with no pink meat and that the juices run clear.”

This is ridiculous advice from a supposedly science-based agency: use a tip-sensitive digital thermometer.

Meanwhile, The Guardian revealed this week that Tim Smith, the former boss of the FSA who left the regulator to become a director of Tesco, is said to have contacted a senior official in the Department of Health in June to warn that the FSA’s plans could provoke a major food scare, in an apparent breach of the terms approved by David Cameron for his move to industry.

And Tim Lang, a professor of food policy at London’s City University, told The Guardian the results are schocking and that “public should refuse to buy poultry until this is sorted out. This is a public health scandal easily on a par to those of the 1980s and 1990s and reminds me of the outrage over food adulteration and contamination in the mid 19th century. Have we really sunk back to that level?”

Dear British public, be outraged, act, withhold your money until you can have confidence in what you consume. This may not be orthodox public health strategy but it is definitely what history shows works when standards are as dire as these results show them to be.

Thanksgiving is my favorite U.S. holiday

After six years in the U.S. celebrating Thanksgiving, this holiday is by far my favorite. The Canadian version occurs on a Monday with two days of weekend buildup and back to real life immediately after the meal. The American iteration is way better: one day of eating up front and a three-day weekend for recovery.

With football on television for 15+hrs each day.

We’ve finally figured out how to do it right, getting any visitors into town on Tuesday and doing meal prep Wednesday. Some veggie dishes are already made and the turkey is ready to go in to the roast pan.

A couple of years ago Matt Shipman and I put together some Thanksgiving meal videos – sorta our goofy take on food safety for the holidays.

And here are some timeless food safety infosheets for the holidays.

Holiday meal food safety

Bathing birds is a food safety mess

Avoid foodborne illness during the holidays

 

 

 

Salmonella soup – a bad Thanksgiving tradition

One of our food safety friends from Jersey, Michele Samaya-Timm, writes:

It’s November again, and the annual countdown to Thanksgiving is upon us.

therm.turkey.oct.13If you haven’t thought about defrosting the turkey, it might be a good time to get this started –unless turkey popsicles are on the menu.     

Planning this step safely in the refrigerator (as recommended)  is essential to food safety —  experts at USDA calculate the average safe defrost time is one day for every 4 pounds of poultry.   So that 20 pounder could necessitate a lead time of 5 days if the entire extended family is expected to show.   

Growing up in a nice blue collar neighborhood in central New Jersey, I became accustomed to turkey prep traditions that perhaps heralded my future of improving food safety.     

Every year on the Friday before Thanksgiving, my father would come home with a frozen turkey, compliments of his employer.   

 Usually a hefty 20-pound Tom, there was no room for it to safely sit in the modest sized Frigidaire without evicting the usual tenants of milk, eggs, condiments and leftovers.   So my mother did what any good housewife in the 70’s would do…she put the frozen poultry into a scrupulously clean mop bucket, filled it with cold water, and set it in the bathtub to defrost at leisure.  When bath time came for us kids, she would remove the bucket, comet the tub, and scrub us clean.   This would be followed by another bout of comet scouring, and replacement of the turkey bucket in the tub.    T

The process would be repeated every night  until Thanksgiving morn – by which time the bird had melted into a pool of Salmonella soup.   

Mom didn’t realize her turkey prep was flawed, or that she was putting her family at risk.  

In the hectic myriad of preparations, most food safety errors seem like a good idea to many folks,  often wrought out of desperation when a holiday — or one’s family — is looming.    A few of the defrosting debacles I have heard or witnessed are examples of this lapse in knowledge or judgment.       

Food safe defrosting cannot be safely accomplished in a bathtub, on the counter, or on a chair on the back porch.  Likewise, car engines and room radiators are not appropriate food prep equipment.  Hairdryers, clothes dryers, dishwashers and irons are appliances that should be used for their expressed purpose, and in accordance with the manufacturers’ instructions (which will not include any mention of melting a holiday bird.)  Electric blankets, hot tubs and saunas are best used with non-feathered living companions.    And blowtorches might just result in a flurry of unexpected guests yielding Scott Air Packs and hoses.    No matter how you slice it, time, planning and good refrigeration are the best food defrosting tools.  

If you are reading this on Thanksgiving morning, looking for solutions to melt a sub-zero fowl,   consider cooking the bird from its frozen state.    It takes a little longer (about 50% more time, according to USDA), but safety first, right?  Just put out a few more appetizers and watch the game until it’s done.  Or you could forego the Norman Rockwell presentation and tableside carving part of your family meal by opting for a platter of turkey legs and parts —  a dissected bird  will defrost quickly and will get you to a safe internal temp of 165 degrees quicker, too.    Consider it handing down a tradition of healthy and food safe holidays.   

Looking back, I don’t recall if the turkey-bathtub-defrost process from my childhood ever resulted in unwanted stomach effects and lengthy hours in the bathroom post- holiday.    I do know that I have taken over the prep and cooking for Thanksgiving.  That way, I can assure lots of handwashing,  safe turkey defrosting (in the refrigerator!)  and put my food thermometer collection to good use.      Salmonella soup is one tradition I won’t hand down.   

Ever appreciative for the dedicated folks who regularly keep our food and water safe – (and also thankful that mom doesn’t know I write about her culinary practices on the internet. )  

Michele is Health Educator for Somerset County (NJ) Department of Health, currently focused on the (hopefully soon!) completion of a thesis in foodborne outbreak communications. 

 

Improving the food safety world, one blog post or conversation at a time

chicken.cook.thermometerUnlike the UK Food Standards Agency, which continues to insist on piping hot as a guide for consumers, the University of Illinois admitted they were wrong and updated their food safety advice for cooking turkeys.

With the help of some correspondents, I called out UI for recommending that turkeys be washed prior to cooking.

The head of UI Extension Communications e-mailed me today to say thank-you, and that their website has been updated with current best practices.

(He also said barfblog.com is “an outstanding resource” but I’m just doing what I do.)

Marks & Spencer to tackle challenge of reducing levels of Campylobacter in whole chickens

Marks & Spencer (M&S) has announced details of its five point action plan to tackle the industry-wide challenge of reducing levels of Campylobacter in whole chickens.

borat.chickenThe measures, which have been in place for the majority of M&S chickens sold since the end of September, include even clearer front-of-pack labelling and double bagging whole chickens so they can be placed straight into the oven without the need to unwrap and handle the chicken. Action is also underway on M&S farms with bonuses paid to farmers who produce Campylobacter free farms and innovative new safety technology in place on the production line.

The M&S five point action plan has been implemented with 2 Sisters Food Group (M&S’ biggest supplier of whole chickens) since the end of September and will be rolled out to the remainder of the M&S supply chain by the end of the year.

Thermometers?

Maybe cook from frozen, using a thermometer to verify safety? Campylobacter exploits chicken juice to flourish

A study from the Institute of Food Research has shown that Campylobacter’s persistence in food processing sites and the kitchen is boosted by ‘chicken juice.’

raw-chicken-bacteria-537x357Organic matter exuding from chicken carcasses, “chicken juice”, provides these bacteria with the perfect environment to persist in the food chain. This emphasises the importance of cleaning surfaces in food preparation, and may lead to more effective ways of cleaning that can reduce the incidence of Campylobacter.

The study was led by Helen Brown, a PhD student supervised by Dr Arnoud van Vliet at IFR, which is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. Helen’s PhD studentship is co-funded by an industrial partner, Campden BRI.

The researchers collected the liquids produced from defrosting chickens, and found that this helped Campylobacter attach to surfaces and subsequently form biofilms. Biofilms are specialised structures some bacteria form on surfaces that protect them from threats from the environment.

“We have discovered that this increase in biofilm formation was due to chicken juice coating the surfaces we used with a protein-rich film,” said Helen Brown. “This film then makes it much easier for the Campylobacter bacteria to attach to the surface, and it provides them with an additional rich food source.”

Campylobacter aren’t particularly hardy bacteria, so one area of research has been to understand exactly how they manage to survive outside of their usual habitat, the intestinal tract of poultry. They are sensitive to oxygen, but during biofilm formation the bacteria protect themselves with a layer of slime. This also makes them more resistant to antimicrobials and disinfection treatments

Understanding this and how Campylobacter persists in the food production process will help efforts to reduce the high percentage of chickens that reach consumers contaminated with the bacteria. Although thorough cooking kills off the bacteria, around 500,000 people suffer from Campylobacter food poisoning each year in the UK. Reducing this number, and the amount of infected chicken on supermarket shelves, is now the number one priority of the Food Standards Agency.

“This study highlights the importance of thorough cleaning of food preparation surfaces to limit the potential of bacteria to form biofilms,” said Helen.

 Chicken juice enhances surface attachment and biofilm formation of Campylobacter jejuni

05.sep.14

Appl. Environ. Microbiol. November 2014 vol. 80 no. 22 7053-7060

Helen L. Brown, Mark Reuter, Louise J. Salt, Kathryn L. Cross, Roy P. Betts and Arnoud H. M. van Vliet; M. W. Griffiths, Editor

http://aem.asm.org/content/80/22/7053

Abstract

The bacterial pathogen Campylobacter jejuni is primarily transmitted via the consumption of contaminated foodstuffs, especially poultry meat. In food processing environments, C. jejuni is required to survive a multitude of stresses and requires the use of specific survival mechanisms, such as biofilms. An initial step in biofilm formation is bacterial attachment to a surface. Here, we investigated the effects of a chicken meat exudate (chicken juice) on C. jejuni surface attachment and biofilm formation. Supplementation of brucella broth with ≥5% chicken juice resulted in increased biofilm formation on glass, polystyrene, and stainless steel surfaces with four C. jejuni isolates and one C. coli isolate in both microaerobic and aerobic conditions. When incubated with chicken juice, C. jejuni was both able to grow and form biofilms in static cultures in aerobic conditions. Electron microscopy showed that C. jejuni cells were associated with chicken juice particulates attached to the abiotic surface rather than the surface itself. This suggests that chicken juice contributes to C. jejuni biofilm formation by covering and conditioning the abiotic surface and is a source of nutrients. Chicken juice was able to complement the reduction in biofilm formation of an aflagellated mutant of C. jejuni, indicating that chicken juice may support food chain transmission of isolates with lowered motility. We provide here a useful model for studying the interaction of C. jejuni biofilms in food chain-relevant conditions and also show a possible mechanism for C. jejuni cell attachment and biofilm initiation on abiotic surfaces within the food chain. 

UK food stores flock to roast-in-the-bag chickens

It’s the one recipe to which even rudimentary cooks like to add their unique touches – perhaps a herby garnish or a few strips of bacon.

roast.chicken.june.10But it seems the days of roast chicken prepared in the distinctive way that your family has always enjoyed it may be numbered (the bird, right, was cooked to excess of 165F before serving).

Supermarkets are, according to Valerie Ellliot of the Daily Mail, urging shoppers to buy chickens in sealed ready- to-roast bags, amid fears that people are no longer able to maintain basic kitchen hygiene.

The aim is to reduce the number of campylobacter food-poisoning cases caused by handling fresh birds.

Supermarkets are increasingly promoting chickens in roast bags that are opened only after cooking. There is no human contact with raw skin and a lower risk of poultry juices spreading bugs. In most cases, they are marginally more expensive – Tesco charges £6 for a 3.3lb bagged version against £5 for a plain chicken.

Asda launched roast-in-bag flavoured chickens in September last year. Six million have been sold, and they now make up 30 per cent of all its chicken sales. A turkey crown in a bag will be on sale for Christmas.

Marks and Spencer now sells two thirds of its chickens in bags and they are also sold at Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Aldi, while Morrisons and Lidl intend to introduce them.

Restaurateur Mark Hix, who specialises in British cuisine, said: ‘I don’t think people should buy chickens in bags. That removes all the pleasure of cooking. Good hygiene is not difficult.’

cooked.chickenGood hygiene is difficult – it requires people to pay attention.

But it can be done. Just stop saying it’s simple.

Tom Parker Bowles, Mail on Sunday food critic asked, “has it really come to this? A nation so lacking in basic common sense that we’re not to be trusted to wash our own hands? A country so obsessed with ease and convenience that the birds we put in our ovens must be sanitized and shoved in a plastic bag?

“I’ve been cooking roast chicken for more than 20 years and have never once caught any nefarious bug. We all know that raw chicken is to be treated with care: separate chopping board, hands scrubbed with soap and all the rest.”

Yes, the ole’ I’ve-been-doing-it-this-way-all-my-life-and-never-got-sick line.

But people are getting sick.

A roast chicken is the cornerstone of any decent cook’s repertoire. I’m making one tonight, stuffed with 30 cloves of garlic, rosemary, sage, and other stuff, and then get to make stock for a couple of days (I’ve got a bunch of mushrooms to use, so I see a mushroom soup in the near future.

Maybe in addition to cooking food in plastic, which may have a role, there is a learning moment to talk about the prevalence of dangerous bugs and how they can best be controlled. And that involves using a tip-sensitive digital thermometer, not pedantic piping hot advice.