A labelling mess and a technology fix, turkey edition

My latest column for Texas A&M’s Center for Food Safety:

I have this weird affliction (among many): The more I read about a food involved in an outbreak, the more I crave it.

mr-bean-turkey(6)Mad cow disease, I want beef

Salmonella in eggs; I want an omelette

WHO cancer report? Had a steak the next day, and gave the kid a salami sandwich for lunch.

Salmonella in peanut butter? Won’t go there, never liked peanut butter.

The point is that crises or occasions are opportunities to get compelling food safety information into the public discourse.

Unfortunately, most of it sucks.

The U.S. glutton-fest known as Thanksgiving, which kicks off the six-week shopping orgy until Christmas, has appeared on calendars again.

As you do.

And simultaneously, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has finally approved genetically engineered salmon that has been in the works for over a decade (or two, I can’t keep track).

This has sparked a call for labels on all things genetically modified (I prefer engineered, all food is genetically modified).

FDA says, there’s no legal requirement for companies to label foods as genetically modified.

turkey.headAs you do.

Because FDA’s job is to regulate based on safety, not on consumer whims.

If retailers and consumer groups want to make a fuss, go ahead.

But your arguments suck.

I’ve always been a fan of full disclosure whether it’s labeling, point-of-sale info, a web url, provide full information on how food is produced.

Most people don’t care, but some do, and they can make a lot of noise.

When we sold genetically-engineered and conventional sweet corn and potatoes at a local market in Ontario (that’s in Canada) back in 2000, people preferred the GE stuff – because it required no pesticides.

The more info the better – for those who care.

With turkeys, consumers are, according to NPR , inundated with labels: natural, fresh, no hormones, young, premium and so on.

Fresh has nothing to do with the time between slaughter and sale. Instead, it means that the turkey has not been cooled to below 26 degrees Fahrenheit. In other words, it was never frozen.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture does not define young for turkeys, but it requires that turkeys that lived more than a year be labeled as yearling or mature.

USDA says natural means no artificial ingredients have been added to the turkey meat, and the meat is only minimally processed.

Free-Range are raised in the standard, crowded houses but have access to the outdoors.

Premium means nothing.

No Hormones Added means nothing: By USDA law, turkeys (and other poultry) are not allowed to be given growth hormones.

And so it goes.

A possible fix is using smart phones and QR codes, so those who care can find out everything – and I mean everything, including if the seed was derived from radiation mutagenesis, a primal form of genetic engineering – if they want.

Meanwhile, we have enough food safety idiots practicing the things that actually make people sick.

During a cooking segment on the Today show this month, Matt Lauer handled an uncooked turkey, wiped his hands with a towel, then grabbed a piece of the cooked turkey that was sitting nearby and gobbled it down.

The tweets said, “Enjoy Salmonella for the next 24 hours, idiot,” and “We were screaming at the television set. Did you not hear us?” Lauer apologetically explained all of this on the next day’s show.

Other holiday tips:

Do not wash turkey.

Do not place a whole turkey over your head.

Do not pass babies with leaky diapers around the table.

In 2005, one American recalled how, when dessert arrived, the family started passing around the newborn baby. As recounted on the Internet site, fark.com, “Apparently, the baby had a pretty full diaper, and it was kinda leaking. He was passed to my uncle, and then passed to someone else. What my uncle didn’t notice was that a little something rubbed off of the baby as he was passed. He looks down on his tie and sees what he believes is some pumpkin pie filling, so he scrapes it off, and takes a bite. He spent the rest of the night in the back yard throwing up.”

We’ll be having turkey and duck with friends on the weekend. It’ll be safe.

Dr. Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety who shops, cooks and ferments from his home in Brisbane, Australia.


Lifehacker covers the science of Thanksgiving

Lots of folks like to say that food safety in the home is simple. It isn’t. There are a lot of variables and messages have historically been distilled down to a sanitized sound bite. Saying that managing food safety risks is simple isn’t good communication; isn’t true; and, does a disservice to the nerds who want to know more. The nerds that are increasingly populating the Internet as they ask bigger, deeper questions.

Friend of barfblog, and Food Safety Talk podcast co-host extraordinaire, Don Schaffner provides a microbiological catch-phrase that gets used on almost every episode of our show to combat the food-safety-is-simple mantra; when asked about whether something is safe, Don often answers with, ‘it depends’ and ‘it’s complicated’. And then engages around the uncertainties.IMG_4138

Beth Skwarecki of Life Hacker’s Vitals blog called last week to talk about Thanksgiving dinner, turkey preparation and food safety and provided the platform to get into the  ‘it depends’ and ‘it’s complicated’ discussion. Right down to time/temperature combinations equivalent to 165F when it comes to Salmonella destruction.

Here are some excerpts.

How Do You Tell When the Turkey Is Done?

With a thermometer, of course. The color of the meat or juices tells you nothing about doneness, as this guide explains: juices may run pink or clear depending on how stressed the animal was at the time of slaughter (which changes the pH of the meat). The color of the bone depends on the age of the bird at slaughter. And pink meat can depend on roasting conditions or, again, the age of the bird. It’s possible to have pink juices, meat, or bones even when the bird is cooked, or clear juices even when it’s not done yet.

So you’ve got your thermometer. What temperature are you targeting? Old advice was to cook the turkey to 180 degrees Fahrenheit, but that was a recommendation based partly on what texture people liked in their meat, Chapman says. The guidelines were later revised to recommend a minimum safe temperature, regardless of what the meat tastes like, and that temperature is 165. You can cook it hotter, if you like, but that won’t make it any safer.

There’s a way to bend this rule, though. The magic 165 is the temperature that kills Salmonella and friends instantly, but you can also kill the same bacteria by holding the meat at a lower temperature, for a longer time. For example, you can cook your turkey to just 150 degrees, as long as you ensure that it stays at 150 (or higher) for five minutes, something you can verify with a high-tech thermometer like an iGrill. This high-tech thermometer stays in your turkey while it cooks, and sends data to your smartphone. Compare its readings to these time-temperature charts for poultry to make sure your turkey is safe.

The whole piece can be found here.

PR 101: Campylobacter still present on 76% of UK birds, but heavy contamination is down! Steaming hot sucks

The results for the first quarter of testing, from July to September 2015, show a decrease in the number of birds with the highest level of contamination from the same months last year.

chickenpurseThese most heavily contaminated birds are the focus of the current target agreed by industry, which is equivalent to no more than 7% of chickens at retail having the highest levels of contamination. Research has shown that reducing the proportion of birds in this category will have the biggest positive impact on public health.

The new data shows 15% of chickens tested positive for the highest level of contamination, down from 22% in July to September 2014. Campylobacter was present on 76% of chicken samples, down from 83% in the same months of last year.

The results for the first quarter show:

15% of chickens tested positive for campylobacter within the highest band of contamination*

76% of chickens tested positive for the presence of campylobacter

0.3% of packaging tested positive at the highest band of contamination

6% of packaging tested positive for the presence of campylobacter

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

In this first quarter, 1,032 samples of fresh whole chilled UK-produced chickens and packaging have been tested. The chickens were bought from large UK retail outlets and smaller independent stores and butchers. The new survey commenced sampling in July 2015.

The FSA has been testing chickens for campylobacter since February 2014 and publishing the results as part of its campaign to bring together the whole food chain to tackle the problem. Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK, making an estimated 280,000 people ill every year.

As with the previous survey, the data shows variations between the retailers. Testing of chickens from Co-op and Waitrose show both retailers have made the most significant reductions in the proportion of the chickens they sell that are most highly-contaminated.

Steve Wearne, Director of Policy at the FSA said: ‘It is good to see that some retailers are getting to grips with campylobacter. However, we want to see all of them pulling together to achieve real and lasting reductions.

‘I am also pleased that we are starting to see retailers and processors being open with consumers about what they are doing to tackle the problem and about the impact their interventions are having on the chickens they are selling.’

But FSA continues to insist chicken is safe as long as consumers follow good kitchen practice:

chicken.thermCover and chill raw chicken: Cover raw chicken and store on the bottom shelf of the fridge so juices cannot drip on to other foods and contaminate them with food poisoning bacteria such as campylobacter;

Don’t wash raw chicken: Cooking will kill any bacteria present, including campylobacter, while washing chicken can spread germs by splashing;

Wash hands and used utensils:  Thoroughly wash and clean all utensils, chopping boards and surfaces used to prepare raw chicken. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water, after handling raw chicken. This helps stop the spread of campylobacter by avoiding cross contamination.

Cook chicken thoroughly:  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.

Steaming hot sucks, especially for a science-based agency.


UK E. coli infections ‘rise by 1,000′

The UK has a long history, like many countries, of blaming the consumer when  foodborne illness is involved.

give.blood.townsendMaybe those who are sick are in the wrong class.

The number of people infected with E. coli across England rose by more than 1,000 last year, figures have shown.

Dorset and North, East and West Devon were the worst hit for the infection with 629 and 612 cases each between September 2014 and September 2015.

Public Health England figures show there were 39,604 from September 2014 to September 2015, compared with 38,291 for the same period the year before.

The health authority said it was working to reduce the rate.

That’s a lot of E. coli infections.

Consumers are apparently supposed to:

  • Wash hands thoroughly after using the toilet, before and after handling food and after handling animals
  • Remove any loose soil before storing vegetables and salads
  • Wash all vegetables and fruits that will be eaten raw
  • Store and prepare raw meat and unwashed vegetables away from ready-to-eat foods
  • Do not prepare raw vegetables with utensils that have also been used for raw meat
  • Cook all minced meat products, such as burgers and meat balls, thoroughly
  • People who have been ill should not prepare food for others for at least 48 hours after they have recovered.

The UK health types really do treat people as if they are dense. Wrong social class, I guess.

Spit season: South Australians warned of Salmonella risk linked to meats cooked on spits

South Australians are being warned to take care when using home rotisseries or spits after they were linked to more than 20 people falling ill last financial year.

lamb-on-spitHealth Minister Jack Snelling said SA Health investigations identified home cooked pig and lamb on the spit as the main causes of salmonella outbreaks at two separate home gatherings in 2014-15.

“The use of home rotisseries and spits is becoming increasingly common across the state as a fun way to feed large groups, especially with the weather warming up and people wanting to cook outside,” Mr Snelling said.

“Proper storage, including hygiene and refrigeration are vital so that dangerous bacteria do not get the chance to multiply before the cooking process takes place.

“If you don’t have an appropriate place to safely store a whole animal we advise that you pick the raw meat up from the butcher or supermarket as close to preparation time as possible.”

SA Health director Dr Fay Jenkins said ensuring the meat had been fully cooked through was essential in preventing salmonella.

She said the best way to ensure meat was cooked through was to place a thermometer into the thickest part of the meat to measure the temperature.

“Meat, particularly poultry, needs to reach a temperature of 75 degrees Celsius to be completely safe,” she said.

15 sick with Salmonella from raw frozen chicken thingies

My friend the postie, (as in works for the post office, to speak Australian just add ie to everything) is going to become a grey nomad (that’s slang for retired people who drive around Australia in their caravans).

barber.foodsHe was showing me his new ride, and how he’s going to cook a lot in a microwave, so I said I’d give him a tip-sensitive digital thermometer.

Here’s why:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that since the last update on July 29, 2015, six more ill people were reported from five states.

A total of 15 people infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Enteritidis were reported from seven states. The number of ill people reported from each state was as follows: Connecticut (1), Illinois (2), Minnesota (8), New Hampshire (1), New York (1), Oklahoma (1), and Wisconsin (1).

Illness onset dates ranged from April 5, 2015 to July 27, 2015. Ill people ranged in age from 4 years to 82, with a median age of 32, and 60% were female. Among 10 people with available information, 4 (40%) were hospitalized, and no deaths were reported.

As we found back in 2007,  when preparing frozen foods, adolescents are less likely than adults to wash their hands and are more susceptible to cross-contaminating raw foods while cooking.

“While half of the adults we observed washed their hands after touching raw chicken, none of the adolescents did,” said Casey Jacob, a food safety research assistant at Kansaas State. “The non-existent hand washing rate, combined with certain age-specific behaviors like hair flipping and scratching in a variety of areas, could lead directly to instances of cross-contamination compared to the adults.”

Food safety isn’t simple, and instructions for safe handling of frozen chicken entrees or strips are rarely followed by consumers despite their best intentions, said Doug Powell, K-State associate professor of food safety who led the study.

As the number and type of convenience meal solutions increases — check out the frozen food section of a local supermarket — the researchers found a need to understand how both adults and adolescents are preparing these products and what can be done to enhance the safety of frozen foods.

In 2007, K-State researchers developed a novel video capture system to observe the food preparation practices of 41 consumers – 21 primary meal preparers and 20 adolescents – in a mock domestic kitchen using frozen, uncooked, commercially available breaded chicken products. The researchers wanted to determine actual food handling behavior of these two groups in relation to safe food handling practices and instructions provided on product labels. Self-report surveys were used to determine whether differences exist between consumers’ reported food handling practices and observed behavior.

The research appeared in the November 2009 issue of the British Food Journal. In addition to Jacob and Powell, the authors were: Sarah DeDonder, K-State doctoral student in pathobiology; Brae Surgeoner, Powell’s former graduate student; Benjamin Chapman, an assistant professor at North Carolina State University and Powell’s former graduate student; and Randall Phebus, K-State professor of animal science and industry.

Beyond the discrepancy between adult and adolescent food safety practices, the researchers also found that even when provided with instructions, food preparers don’t follow them. They may not have even seen them or they assume they know what to do.

“Our results suggest that while labels might contain correct risk-reduction steps, food manufacturers have to make that information as compelling as possible or it will be ignored,” Chapman said.

They also found that observational research using discreet video recording is far more accurate than self-reported surveys. For example, while almost all of the primary meal preparers reported washing hands after every instance in which they touched raw poultry, only half were observed washing hands correctly after handling chicken products in the study.

Powell said that future work will examine the effectiveness of different food safety labels, messages and delivery mechanisms on consumer behavior in their home kitchens.

 Self-reported and observed behavior of primary meal preparers and adolescents during preparation of frozen, uncooked, breaded chicken products


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



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.

More turtles, more Salmonella

 You see a cute reptile, I see a Salmonella factory.

turtle.kissThe U.S. Centers for Disease Control, multiple states, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine investigated two multistate outbreaks of human Salmonella infections linked to contact with small turtles in 2015.

51 people infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella were reported from 16 states between January 22, 2015 and September 8, 2015.

15 ill people were hospitalized, and no deaths were reported.

50% of ill people were children 5 years of age or younger.

Epidemiologic and laboratory findings linked these two outbreaks of human Salmonella infections to contact with small turtles or their environments, such as water from a turtle habitat.

All turtles, regardless of size, can carry Salmonella bacteria even if they look healthy and clean. These outbreaks are a reminder to follow simple steps to enjoy pet reptiles and keep your family healthy.

Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after handling turtles or anything in the area where they live or roam.

Since 1975, the Food and Drug Administration has banned the sale and distribution of turtles with a shell length of less than 4 inches in size as pets because they are often linked to Salmonella infections, especially in young children.

Small turtles should not be purchased as pets or given as gifts.

CDC’s National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) laboratory conducted antibiotic resistance testing on Salmonella isolates collected from seven ill people infected with one of the outbreak strains.

All seven isolates were susceptible to all antibiotics tested on the NARMS panel.

The outbreak is expected to continue at a low level for the next several months since consumers might be unaware of the risk of Salmonella infection from reptiles, including small turtles. If properly cared for, small turtles have a long life expectancy.


Burger safety

A food safety friend went to a U.S. burger joint, and asked to have his burger cooked to 160F.

gonz.med.rare.burgerThe counter person asked whether he’d like some pink.

He replied, No, I’d like it cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F.

Which color is equal to 160°F?

He didn’t know.

So, he settled for well done.

In frustration, my friend send this letter to HQ.

No response.

For a couple of decades the color of cooked ground beef has been known

to not be a reliable indicator of safety.  (1-4, 6-8)

Temperature is. (5)

Do your cooks use a thermometer?

Can your correlate the cooked color to an internal temperature for

each batch of ground beef?

As a septuagenarian, my immune system is not as robust as it once was.

And, my great grandaughter’s immune system isn’t as robust as it will be.

barfblog.Stick It InWe like safe burgers, not over cooked ones.

Can you help?


  1. Berry, B.W.1994. Fat Level, High Temperature Cooking and Degree of

Doneness Affect Sensory, Chemical, and Physical Properties of Beef

Patties. J. Food Science. 59 (1): 10-14, 19.

  1. Cornforth, D.; C.R. Calkins, C. Faustman. 1991. Methods for

Identification and Prevention of Pink Color in Cooked Meat. Reciprocal

Meat Conference Proceedings, AMSA 44:53-58.

  1. Hague, M.A.; K.E. Warren; M.C. Hunt; D.H. Kropf; C.L. Kastner; S.L.

Stroda; and D.E. Johnson. 1994. Endpoint Temperature, Internal Cooked

Color, and Expressible Juice Color Relationships in Ground Beef

Patties. J. Food Sci. 59 (3): 465-470.

  1. Hunt, M.C.; K.E. Warren; M.A. Hague; D. H. Kropf; C.L. Waldner;

S.L. Stroda; and C.L. Kastner. 1995. Cooked Ground Beef Color is

Unreliable Indicator of Maximum Internal Temperature. Department of

Animal Sciences, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS 66506-0201.

Presentation to American Chemical Society April 6, 1995.

  1. Line,-J.E.; Fain,-A.R.-Jr.; Moran,-A.B.; Martin,-L.M.;

Lechowich,-R.V.; Carosella,-J.M.; Brown,-W.L.. 1991.  Lethality of

heat to Escherichia coli 0157:H7: D-value and Z-value determinations

in ground beef. J-Food-Prot..54:762-766.

  1. Mendenhall, V.T. 1989. Effect of pH and Total Pigment Concentration

on the Internal Color of Cooked Ground Beef Patties. J. Food Sci. 54

(1): 1-2.

  1. Trout, G.R. 1989. Variation in Myoglobin Denaturation and Color of

Cooked Beef, Pork, and Turkey Meat as Influenced by pH, Sodium

Chloride, Sodium Tripolyphosphate, and Cooking Temperature. J. Food

Sci. 54 (3): 536-544.

  1. USDA-ARS/FSIS. 1998. Premature Browning of Cooked Ground Beef. Food

Safety and Inspection Service Public Meeting on Premature Browning of

Ground Beef. May 27, 1998. USDA, Washington, D.C.

Don’t leave home without it: A tip-sensitive digital thermometer

We spent the (Australian) Labour Day weekend at the 5th annual Coffs Harbour 3-on-3 ice hockey tournament, featuring teams from all over eastern Australia.

thermometer.stars.coffs.oct.15During a BBQ Saturday night for the Brisbane Southern Stars – the club we’re affiliated with – I played food safety nerd and whipped out my tip-sensitive digital thermometer.

I carry one in my knapsack wherever I go.

The team I coach, kids aged 6-9, took home gold in the Squirt division. (And yes, I like to be able to wear Australia’s national shoe, the flip-flop, to the arena).