Nosestretcher alert: sous vide safety in the home kitchen

Friend of the blog Don Schaffner of Rutgers University had some food safety concerns about a recent column broadcast by state-sponsored jazz radio station NPR about sous vide – or cooking under vacuum at a specific temperature.

schaffner.facebook.apr.14She (journalist T. Susan Chang) says:

Maybe you’ve heard the stories about city health department officials forcing chefs to pour bleach on their sous vide meats. It’s a story that always makes me want to cry, but for years public health has relied on a firm food safety rule: dangerous germs live at between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Even the pink interior of a medium-rare burger falls above this range, and most cooking techniques take place around or well above the boiling point of water (212 degrees F).

Schaffner says:

Some species of pathogenic bacteria can multiply between 40 and 140°F, and by multiply I mean increase in number. There are several species of pathogenic bacteria that can multiply slowly at temperatures less than 40°F. There are many, many pathogenic bacteria that can survive but not multiply at temperatures less than 40°F. All spore forming pathogenic bacteria can easily survive at temperatures more than 140°F. Some of these spores can survive boiling water, including the spores of Clostridium botulinum, which is of great concern because it can grow in vacuum packaged foods if the temperatures are in that 40 to 140° range for the right amount of time.

She says:

Aiming for that window — above 140 degrees for safety, below 150 degrees for texture — isn’t hard if you’re set up to control temperature within a degree or two. And you can pasteurize your protein by holding it there for long enough.

Schaffner says:

Taking food above 140°F does not make it safe. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service has a document which provides guidance to meat processors regarding safe cooking temperatures. That document is entitled “Appendix A Compliance Guidelines For Meeting Lethality Performance Standards For Certain Meat And Poultry Products”, and is available here: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OPPDE/rdad/FRPubs/95-033F/95-033F_Appendix_A.htm. According to this document a food at 140 °F needs 12 minutes to meet the USDA standards. That same guidance also indicates that a food can meet the standards by heating at 130°F too, just for a much longer time, and even at 150°F more than a minute is needed.

She says:

Salmon is a perfect protein on which to test your newfound control. Allow the salmon to sit in this brine in the refrigerator as you bring the water bath of your sous vide up to your target temperature (115 for rare, 120 for medium-rare).

When the water bath has reached the target temperature, remove any excess air from the zip-top bag by displacement if you’re not using a vacuum-sealed bag. Drop the salmon into the bath. It should take about 1/2 hour to come to temperature.

Schaffner says:

Not likely to result in any significant pathogen reduction.  Hitting the outside with a blowtorch will kill pathogens on the surface, but not any that are internalized.

She says:

Sous Vide Pork Belly, (when) cooked at 144 degrees for two days, the lean meat fibers sandwiched between the layers of fat stay plump and juicy.

Sous VideSchaffner says:

This will give significant pathogen reduction, but I worry about any process that takes two days.  If there is a temperature failure, that is a lot of time for risk to develop.

She says:

Sous Vide Basic Burger, bring the water bath up to 120 for rare, 125 for medium-rare. Drop the bagged frozen patties in the bath (displacing any air pockets first); the meat will take about 1 1/2 hours to get to its target temperature.

Schaffner says:

Quite risky from my perspective. Pathogens will be internalized in these burgers, and even 125°F for 1.5 hours will not give a significant reduction.

She says:

Sous Vide Herbed All-Purpose Chicken Breast, bring the sous vide water bath up to 140 degrees. … You’ll need 1 to 1 1/2 hours to cook the chicken to the target temperature.

Schaffner says:

Probably safe.

Food safety can be complicated.  While I share you passion for empowering people to innovate in the kitchen, I think it is important to get the science right, especially when it comes to food safety.

(Many thanks to Schaffner for continuing to share his infectious enthusiasm for all things microbiological – and getting it right).

Encouraging thermometer use, one person at a time

doug.sorenne.hockey.apr.14Australia shuts down for Easter.

It’s the end of two weeks of school holidays, the weather in Brisbane is ideal, so everyone is at the beach.

We went to the arena.

We did go to the beach Friday, but Saturday was two different outings and sausage sizzles.

First it was leisure in a park down by the Brisbane River. Brisbane has numerous, fabulous parks outfitted with lots of electric grills, and open spaces for kids and adults alike. I had forgotten my thermometer but my brofriend remembered to bring the one I had given him.

thermometer.chicken.apr.14The grills aren’t the most efficient, so people were waiting for us to hurry up and get on with things. A couple saw us temping sausages with the tip-sensitive digital thermometer and proclaimed, what a great idea. They were preparing ginger-soy chicken, so I said, use the thermometer. We’ll get it back later. They were hooked.

Then it was a hockey tournament at a neighboring arena where Sorenne made her game debut, and I returned to coaching for the first time in nine years.

They also had a sausage sizzle as a fundraiser. I was too busy with the kids to ask about thermometers, but it was a great way to spend a Saturday evening.

Beach, hockey, thermometers – what’s not to like?

dp.coaching.apr.14

Food safety types – practice what you preach

My first column from the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety:

I dream about thermometers.

In the latest combination of fact and fiction, accuracy and amalgamation, I was at a roadhouse-style restaurant and settling the bill with an powell's.food.safety.worldassistant manger who had seen it all and stopped having fun years ago, when smoke started billowing from the open grill.

A waitress tried to serve the burger — black on the outside, raw on the inside – when my food safety nerd friend went to intervene.

I joined the fray, and insisted a thermometer was necessary to determine if the burger was safe.

The assistant manager said, “I heard you were the biggest loser in town.”

Then the dream ends.

In 1998, the U.S. Department of Agriculture very publicly began to urge consumers to use an accurate food thermometer when cooking ground beef patties because research demonstrated that the color of meat is not a reliable indicator of safety.

USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety at the time, Catherine Woteki, said, “Consumers need to know that the only way to be sure a ground beef patty is cooked to a high enough temperature to destroy any harmful bacteria that may be present is to use a thermometer.”

At the time, I said, no one uses a meat thermometer to check the doneness of hamburgers. The idea of picking up a hamburger patty with tongs and inserting the thermometer in sideways was too much effort (others insist the best way to use a tip sensitive digital thermometer is to insert into the middle of the patty at a 45 degree angle).

I was wrong.

Shortly thereafter, I started doing it and discovered, not only was using a meat thermometer fairly easy, it made me a better cook. No more extra amy.thermometerwell-done burgers to ensure the bugs that would make me sick were gone. They tasted better.

By May 2000, USDA launched a national consumer campaign to promote the use of food thermometers in the home. The campaign featured an infantile mascot called Thermy that proclaimed, “It’s Safe to Bite When the Temperature is Right.”

Fourteen years later, the converts are minimal. Canada came to the thermometer table a few years ago, but the laws of physics are apparently different north of the 49th parallel, with a safe temperature for poultry being 180F in Canada, but 165F in the U.S.

The Aussies are slowly warming to the idea of thermometers but the UK is still firmly committed to piping hot (cue Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins).

Science-based depends on whose science is being quoted to whose ends. The fancy folks call it value judgments in risk assessments; Kevin Spacey in the TV series House of Cards would call it personal advancement.

Food safety is losing to food porn with thermometers.

Many celebrity chefs actively denigrate the use of a thermometer when cooking. Some claim to know meat is safe using the finger method, which is akin to a shaman curing a sick child, or dowsing to find water (chance figures heavily –even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while).

Gordon Ramsey says, “A thermometer? The day we need that to cook a breast of chicken — you, get out.”

Seamus Mullen, the chef and an owner of the Boqueria restaurants in the Flatiron district and SoHo in New York City uses a wire cake tester, or any thin, straight piece of metal.
“We stick it in the middle through the side. If it’s barely warm to the lips, it’s rare. If it’s like bath water, it’s medium rare. The temperature will never lie. It takes the guesswork out of everything.”

Why not stick in a thermometer — a thin piece of metal?

I can no longer cook without a meat thermometer; I feel naked, like in a dream.

Yet almost everyone else in the U.S. can, where only 7 per cent of the population report using a thermometer on a regular basis — and some of those are surely lying.

We’ve known the basics for increasing thermometer use for over a decade: people care more about being better cooks than serving safe food, and lead by example.

Tip-sensitive digital thermometers need to be widely available, and food safety types need to use them properly. Not just at home, but at school events with the kids, at potlucks, at any gathering that involves food.

Stop dreaming, start doing.

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

Color sucks; use a thermometer

Former graduate student Allison Smathers caught Liz Szabo’s color-is-not-an-indicator brief in USA Today and tweeted like love, food safety is color blind.

So is Stephen Colbert.20140307-203245.jpg

It’s a myth that color is a reliable indicator of whether food is fully cooked. Use a meat thermometer, says Benjamin Chapman, assistant professor at North Carolina State University. Poultry requires an internal temperature of 165 degrees, ground beef, 160; pork and seafood, 145.
Safely cooked chicken can still be pink; preservatives (nitrates or nitrites) also can cause a pink color, more common in younger birds with thin skin.

Stick it in.

Beef’s color is affected by acidity and fat content. Low-fat patties need more cooking and higher temperatures. Beef also can turn brown before reaching a safe temperature if it’s from an older animal, was stored for a long time or exposed to too much air.

 

Shopping for safety, consumers left wondering at Coles

Talk less, do more.

That’s what I’m telling 5-year-old Sorenne as she explains for the eighth time she’s about to go get her shoes on, so we can walk to school.

And after 20 years of food safety stuff, it’s my go-to response to any corporate head of borat.chickenfood safety.

I understand that talking has a role, that meetings have a role, but only if they translate into tangible outcomes. With food safety, for me, that has always meant, will fewer people barf?

A month ago, Amy proclaimed, based on her acquired food safety knowledge, that she may have sickened Sorenne after a serving of frozen chicken thingies from Coles (that’s a supermarket chain in Australia).

The label did not indicate whether they were fully cooked and frozen, or frozen raw.

Raw, frozen not-ready-to-eat entrees purchased in retail and prepared in the home have been identified as a significant risk factor for salmonellosis. From 1998 to 2008, eight separate outbreaks have implicated undercooked chicken nuggets, chicken strips, and stuffed chicken entrees.

I guess someone other than my mother and Ben and Amy read what I write, because someone from Coles e-mailed me in response to the Jan. post to say: “Kansas State’s loss is Australia’s gain and it would be great to talk to you to 1) answer your query on nuggets (apologies it took so long, that’s not acceptable and we will put that right) and 2) to explore opportunities to get your unique insight into Australian retail and your experience’s so far.”

We talked.

He said him and Jackie Healing, who spoke today at the Global Food Safety Initiative shindig in California, would love to come and visit with me and go through a local Coles on a food safety tour.

Those chicken nuggets? Flash fried so the breading sticks, but not cooked to a microbiologically safe temperature. Nothing on the label, no cooking instructions for microbiological safety. How would a consumer know?

I never heard back.

That’s normal; lots of talk, little action. I’ll go hang out with my 5-year-old.

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, coles.chicken.breast.nuggets.jan_.14-225x300which 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.

 

Mathiasen, L.A., Chapman, B.J., Lacroix, B.J. and Powell, D.A. 2004. Spot the mistake: Television cooking shows as a source of food safety information, Food Protection Trends 24(5): 328-334.

Consumers receive information on food preparation from a variety of sources. Numerous studies conducted over the past six years demonstrate that television is one of the primary sources for North Americans. This research reports on an examination and categorization of messages that television food and cooking programs provide to viewers about preparing food safely. During June 2002 and 2003, television food and cooking programs were recorded and reviewed, using a defined list of food safety practices based on criteria icarly.chicken.cell.handsestablished by Food Safety Network researchers. Most surveyed programs were shown on Food Network Canada, a specialty cable channel. On average, 30 percent of the programs viewed were produced in Canada, with the remainder produced in the United States or United Kingdom. Sixty hours of content analysis revealed that the programs contained a total of 916 poor food-handling incidents. When negative food handling behaviors were compared to positive food handling behaviors, it was found that for each positive food handling behavior observed, 13 negative behaviors were observed. Common food safety errors included a lack of hand washing, cross-contamination and time-temperature violations. While television food and cooking programs are an entertainment source, there is an opportunity to improve their content so as to promote safe food handling.

Stick it in: thermometers, not color, required to safely cook pheasant

Dean Ralph likes to hunt pheasant in Kansas. He likes to grill them as well.

After years of hearing me go on about tip-sensitive digital thermometers and their role in producing safe food, he finally got an automated contraption that hooks up to his BBQ.

The next time I saw him, he was gushing about how easier it was cooking with a thermometer and how he was a better cook for it (people tend to celebrity.chefsovercook to compensate for pink meat).

Dean Ralph could teach the folks at My Kitchen Rules a few pointers – MKR for those in the know – another in a long line of terrible cooking shows offering terrible food safety advice (not you, Alton Brown), that airs Sunday nights in Australia.

I don’t watch. But apparently the folks at safefood Queensland do, and decided to be witty Monday morning by taking to the twittersphere to proclaim:

SFPQ
Last night’s team on #MKR learnt a great lesson while cooking their pheasant. Juices should run clear with no pink meat visible. #foodsafety
2/24/14, 9:45 AM

Followed by:

 

 

 

SFPQ
When they saw blood after cooking for 15min, they wisely put it back in oven. Serving food poisoning is a good way to get a low score. #MKR
2/24/14, 9:46 AM

So I twittered:

barfblog
Fail. Use a thermometer “@SFPQ: Last night’s team on #MKR cooking pheasant. Juices should run clear with no pink meat visible. #foodsafety”
2/24/14, 9:55 AM

They wrote back:

SFPQ
Correct @barfblog if u have one. But a good guideline is no pink should be visible & juices run clear. If in doubt, cook it for longer.
2/24/14, 10:16 AM

To which I responded:

barfblog
Fail; color is a lousy indicator “@SFPQ: Correct @barfblog if u have one. But a good guideline is no pink visible & juices run clear.”
2/24/14, 10:47 AM

Several other food safety types jumped in to the twit-war, reinforcing that thermometers were indeed the best way to ensure microbiologically safe food. An hour later, safefood Queensland changed its tune.

SFPQ
Juices running clear & no visible pink is a starting point but use a #thermometer to make sure yr poultry & meats are cooked. #foodsafety
2/24/14, 11:48 AM

And then:

SFPQ
Meat thermometers take the guess work out of #cooking. It’ll be the best thing you’ll invest in for yr health and safety. #foodsafety
2/24/14, 11:50 AM

A five-minute search using Google yielded revealed that the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends cooking pheasant to 165F (74C) hamburger-safe and unsafe-thumb-450x138-175and letting the bird sit for 15 minutes. USDA states, “Cooked game meats can be pink even when the meat has reached a safe internal temperature.”

So can chicken and hamburger and pork. Color of the finished product is variable, primarily due to the age of the animal at harvest and other biochemical factors that are in a lot of references, readily available on barfblog.com, but safefoodQueensland can do the job itself.

The appropriately named BBQ Down Under recommends “a target temperature in the thickest part of the breast is 75°C (167°F) – check it using a thermometer probe. Put the probe in approximately 3/4 of the way into the breast meat, making sure you don’t go too far and hit bone.”

In Canada, the recommended temp is 82C (180F), but that’s another discussion. At least the U.S., and more recently Canada, can, on this issue, keep a straight face when they say they use science-based decision making.

safefood Queensland, you can do better, especially when your website has statements like:

“Raw chicken and poultry can carry bacteria, which is responsible for more cases of food poisoning than any other pathogen.”

Mathiasen, L.A., Chapman, B.J., Lacroix, B.J. and Powell, D.A. 2004. Spot the mistake: Television cooking shows as a source of food safety information, Food Protection Trends 24(5): 328-334.

Consumers receive information on food preparation from a variety of sources. Numerous studies conducted over the past six years demonstrate that television is one of the primary sources for North Americans. This barfblog.Stick It Inresearch reports on an examination and categorization of messages that television food and cooking programs provide to viewers about preparing food safely. During June 2002 and 2003, television food and cooking programs were recorded and reviewed, using a defined list of food safety practices based on criteria established by Food Safety Network researchers. Most surveyed programs were shown on Food Network Canada, a specialty cable channel. On average, 30 percent of the programs viewed were produced in Canada, with the remainder produced in the United States or United Kingdom. Sixty hours of content analysis revealed that the programs contained a total of 916 poor food-handling incidents. When negative food handling behaviors were compared to positive food handling behaviors, it was found that for each positive food handling behavior observed, 13 negative behaviors were observed. Common food safety errors included a lack of hand washing, cross-contamination and time-temperature violations. While television food and cooking programs are an entertainment source, there is an opportunity to improve their content so as to promote safe food handling.

Outrage over the outage

Ashley Chaifetz, a PhD student studying public policy at UNC-Chapel Hill, writes:

Winter storm Pax pelted North Carolina with an initial dose of snow and freezing rain, and is now traveling north on I-95. Although I’ve been fortunate so far, power outages are already affecting hundreds of thousands of Southerners. Losing electricity can be a nightmare — especially if it is for more than a couple of hours.1920543_10152192564303431_259801825_n
 
Alongside 4,500 of our neighbors, we spent four nights in a row without power in DC in the summer of 2013. It was  hot and humid, with temperatures in the 90s F not C). Our attempts to cook without electricity in the dark felt very much like a modern version of Little House on the Prairie. All I could think was that, if this was hurricane or a snowstorm, we would have had time to prepare (but maybe not).
 
There are currently 800,000 people without power from the snowstorm, leaving many with a food safety situation — a refrigerator with most of last week’s vegetables, defrosting chicken, jars of jams, peanut butter, and tomato sauce, cartons of eggs, chunks of cheese, quarts of milk, and once-canned goods stored in Tupperware. I know I would not be ready to toss all those vegetables into the compost, but depending on the time and temperature, some fridge contents will have to go.
 
According to USDA FSIS’s estimates, a closed fridge will keep its contents at refrigeration temperatures for about four hours and a closed freezer will keep food close to freezing for about 48 hours after the power goes out. If food temperatures rise above 41°F for more than four hours, pathogens within any meat, seafood, poultry, and dairy products (as well as many cooked foods) can grow to problematic levels. There is an increased risk in pastatemperature-abused leftovers made with high-protein foods (meat and meat substitutes); soft cheeses; milk and cream-based products; sliced tomatoes and cut leafy greens; and cooked pasta or rice. In the freezer, if meat, poultry, seafood or dairy products still have ice crystals, you can refreeze them when the power returns. If they are thawed for more than a couple of hours, they can be risky.
 
Making the risk management decision without a fridge/freezer thermometer and a food thermometer is tough and losing a bunch of food can be an expensive lesson. It isn’t a fantastic idea to guess temperatures without a thermometer, either; a guesstimate can increase risk of illness or lead to more waste.

Piping hot? 15 now sick with E. coli O157 linked to burgers from Scotland’s Hydro stadium

As the number of cases of E. coli O157 linked to burgers sold at Glasgow’s SSE Hydro stadium rose to 15, the only statement from operators remains, “We wish to assure the hamburger.thermometerpublic that at this time we have no significant concerns in relation to catering for our patrons.”

Maybe instead of hiding behind public health, the food service types at the stadium could provide a public accounting of where their hamburgers are sourced, how they are prepared, whether burgers are occasionally temped to verify standard operating procedures, or do they go with the UK standard of, piping hot?

6 sick from chicken liver pate in Oregon, Washington

When I think Oregon, I tend not to think UK. But these regions are apparently bound by a passion for undercooked chiken liver pate resulting in Campylobacter outbreaks.

Since December 2013, Oregon health officials have been looking into the source of campylobacteriosis that has sickened six individuals in Oregon, Washington and Ohio. All cases report eating undercooked or raw chicken livers; most cases consumed chicken pate_beet_dp_mar_12livers prepared as pâté. The cases in Ohio ate chicken liver pâté while visiting Oregon. The Oregon Health Authority is working with the Washington Department of Health, USDA and CDC.

This is the second reported multistate outbreak of campylobacteriosis associated with consumption of undercooked chicken liver in the United States.

Australia has had its own outbreak.

Chicken livers should be considered a risky food. A recent study found up to 77 percent of chicken livers tested were positive for Campylobacter. Washing chicken livers is not enough; chicken livers can be contaminated on the inside and on the outside, which is why thorough cooking is the only way to kill bacteria in contaminated livers.

(Hint: don’t wash them, you’re just spreading Campylobacter around your kitchen.)

Pâté made with chicken liver is often undercooked to preserve texture. It can be difficult to tell if pâté is cooked thoroughly because livers are often partially cooked then blended with other ingredients and chilled. Pâté prepared at a USDA inspected facility is considered safe to eat because in order to pass inspection the livers must be cooked to a proper temperature.

The 2009 FDA Food Code states that restaurants must inform customers about the risk of eating undercooked food; the warnings are often included at the bottom of restaurant menus.

Was it thermometer-verified 165? Were there sprouts on it? Obama gets a burger

President Obama escaped the White HouseCoupe Burger.menu with 5 young people and they hit up a very cool, neighborhood burger joint, according to TMZ, with almost no advanced notice. The 5 young people are all working on the Affordable Care Act.

At the time we posted this, they were all still at The Coupe in Columbia Heights.
We’re told Obama is enjoying a Coupe Burger — “Our classic with fried onion rings, sauteed mushrooms and sharp cheddar.  And get this … we were told fries, but turns out the side is spinach.

obama.burger.menu.jan.14