When Disney Frank decided to become Wal-Mart Frank, I asked him, why?
He said something along the lines of, I could influence food safety for a few million people that visit Disney each year, or influence food safety for hundreds of millions that shop at Wal-Mart.
I’ve always had a lot of respect for that.
Anyone can be an arm-chair critic, there’s few that walk the talk (and the line).
I’m one of a handful of people that have spoken with groups at both Disney and Wal-Mart over the years, and Frank and I don’t always agree, especially on how best to reach consumers, but there’s much respect.
Wal-Mart has 140 million shoppers in its stores in the U.S. every week. How does it ensure that its food supply is safe and healthy for all of those customers?
NASSAUER: Give us a sense of the scale of what you do.
YIANNAS: One hundred forty million Americans shop in our stores every week. We’ve got around 11,000 stores across the world, tens of thousands of food suppliers, over two million employees.
So we have a very carefully thought out food-safety plan that centers around five core initiatives. We work very hard to reduce risk very early in the food system. No. 2, you have to reduce the retail risk factors. When you have stores that actually prepare and handle food, make sure those procedures are right. Three, regulatory compliance. No. 4, manage emerging food issues. No. 5, driving global consistency, because consumers world-wide should have access to safe food.
When we make a food decision, our first question is always, “Is it safe?” We then also believe in affordability. And then, is it sustainable? That’s about making sure we can meet today’s needs and ensuring that we don’t hinder future generations’ ability to have safe, affordable food.
NASSAUER: One thing from a merchandising standpoint that Wal-Mart is working on is trying to have a wider selection of small producers, organic food, sourcing locally. How does that change what you do? Is it harder to do food safety for 40 farms in Illinois versus a big producer in China?
YIANNAS: What we’ve adopted is a scalable food-safety approach. We were the first retailer in the U.S. to require our suppliers to adhere to something called the Global Food Safety Initiative benchmark standards. They’re very comprehensive standards that often exceed regulations in countries that we operate in.
But we realized that if you were a small, local supplier you wouldn’t be able to comply with that. So we took the standards and broke it down, so we have a scalable food-safety approach for small and developing suppliers.
NASSAUER: One thing you mentioned when we talked earlier was that what you think about is evolving. The perception of safety is something you’re thinking about more and more as new technologies become an issue. Tell us a little bit how that has evolved at Wal-Mart.
YIANNAS: We have to keep the customer in mind. When you make risk-management decisions, you just don’t make it from a scientific point of view. We start off with, what is the real risk?
We will never knowingly do something that’s risky.
Second, we ask ourselves, what is the regulatory requirement? We will never knowingly do something that doesn’t comply with law. But a third question is, what is the perceived risk?
Food-safety professionals and food professionals have been very dismissive of perceived risk. That probably wasn’t wise. We have to understand perception.
When I was growing up, food used to unite us. Hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet. It united us as a people.
I realize society is polarized, but I think food shouldn’t divide us. You have people who say, “I want global food,” and some are like, “No, I want local food.” You have some people say, “Hey, I want natural food.” “I want processed food.”
My last name is Yiannas, pronounced appropriately. I’m of Greek descent. The Greeks have been processing food for a long time. I love my Greek yogurt. It’s processed. I love my Greek cheese. It’ s processed. I love my Greek wine. Processed. I love my bread. Processed.
We as leaders need to change and shift the conversation, and let food unite us.
Fast Company has a series of articles about the rise and fall and … of Chipotle.
The core of the food safety stories seems to be that Chipotle milks its consumers, so has endless money to spend telling those consumers why it’s safe to eat at Chipotle without backing things up.
The protagonists in this opera involving a lot of barf and a dabble of cocaine, are former professor Mansour Samadpour of IEH Laboratories in Seattle, and Jim Marsden, a meat guy and former professor at Kansas State University.
I was a colleague of Marsden, worked for IEH for three months, and can fully agree with this statement regarding the merits of either’s approach to food safety at Chipotle: “If you’re in a courtroom and you listen to both sides of the argument, it’s hard to say that anyone is 100% correct. It’s all wrapped up in a lot of academic infighting and politics.”
Marsden and Mansour both know a lot of science. They know shit about consumers. History is filled with great hockey players who go on to be lousy coaches, or scientists who stray from their base of expertise and make fools of themselves. But that’s for Chipotle to figure out.
For a company that’s supposed to be supplying ethical ingredients (whatever that means) for over-priced shit, they seem to have picked the wrong argument.
What’s it going to take for customers to barf less?
Mark Crumpacker, the chief creative officer and marketing lead at Chipotle, said “It’s great to be back” upon returning to the restaurant chain after a three-month leave of absence involving foodborne outbreaks, plummeting share value, and cocaine.
Since returning, Crumpacker’s team has launched a new ad campaign, in partnership with Austin-based agency GSD&M, highlighting the “royal treatment” Chipotle gives its ingredients.
That imagery alone is fairly drug-induced, and any notion that Chipotle is nothing but a business squeezing what it can out of suppliers while marketing overpriced shit is delusional.
“Obviously our marketing is built on this idea of fresh, high-quality ingredients,” Crumpacker says. “So [the food-safety issues were] sort of like the ultimate insult to that position.”
Because there is nothing in fresh, high-quality ingredients that says safe: Adjectives are the language of hucksters (these are the greatest make-you-fat burritos, ever. They’re really great).
Crumpacker was central in helping the Mexican fast-casual chain foster a glossy aura around its brand, which became synonymous with fresh ingredients and an ethical value set.
Like Keith Richards and Eric Clapton, I so much enjoyed their work when they were high.
The story also says Chiptole hired Burson-Marsteller, the crisis-management PR firm the bottom-feeders of PR hacks that has supported Chipotle since the outbreaks (for a cost, paid for by all you yuppies).
Anyone who hires B-M is corporate mainstream, not some hippies selling ethical burritos, whatever that means.
Was it ever safe to eat at Chipotle given their gross negligence of microbial food safety issues and vast embrace of marketing hucksterism.
Co-CEO Steve Ells says, “Justifiably, people really question our trust. You lose that trust. For how long? We’re working really, really hard to get that trust back.”
Multiple industry experts tell me that Chipotle did not take food safety seriously enough or invest sufficient resources into quality assurance (QA). “When this [outbreak] first broke, the leadership at Chipotle, and I include Steve and [co-CEO] Monty [Moran], were completely sideswiped and didn’t know what the hell they were doing,” says one source familiar with Chipotle’s food-safety measures. “They had not really considered food safety at the level that they should have.”
The question is not how bad Chipotle fucked up and how a chain of such size and profits bamboozle the American public, the question is who will be next? And will anyone pay attention when some voice in the forest says in 2007, these Chipotle types are not focused on food safety?
Before its E. coli incidents, a slew of sources tell me that the food safety and QA team overseeing the company’s entire supply chain included just four people, a low number for a chain of Chipotle’s scale and complexity. The company also split its safety teams, which some suggest created arbitrary divisions of responsibility within the organization. Heidi Wederquist, then Chipotle’s director of QA and food safety, oversaw supply-chain issues, but had little visibility into restaurant operations. Conversely, Tim Spong, who knew Moran in college and served as outside counsel for Chipotle before joining the company, managed safety, security, and risk at the restaurant level. “There is no way a team that small could properly manage all the food coming into that system,” says one former analyst at the company, who now works for a chain much smaller than Chipotle but with a QA team that’s twice its size. Chipotle spokesperson Chris Arnold disputes the visibility claims but confirms the rest, adding that the team was “strengthened” with additional hires after February 2016 and that the two groups have now been merged under Spong’s leadership. (Additionally, Jason Von Rohr, Chipotle’s executive director of supply chain, who was responsible for sourcing all of Chipotle’s ingredients, departed shortly after the E. coli outbreaks. Multiple sources indicate he had been planning to leave Chipotle and his departure was not a result of the outbreaks. He has since joined Amazon.)
Thanks for the org.chart.
All those people who paid a premium to barf thank you for the org.chart.
Originally, Chipotle followed the guidance of food-safety scientist Mansour Samadpour, who runs the Seattle-based consultancy IEH Laboratories. He’d initially focused the company’s food-safety program on a mix of supply-chain testing and what are called “interventions” or “kill steps,” which work to eliminate pathogens from ingredients. For example, he introduced blanching produce to Chipotle, a kill step whereby Chipotle workers put lemons, limes, onions, avocados, and jalapeños into 185-degree water for five seconds before preparing them for customers.
When Chipotle hired James Marsden in February 2016 to be its director of food safety, he shifted the company to adopt more of these interventions, while winding down Samadpour’s testing system. He expanded the company’s blanching system, for example, to include bell peppers.
One of Marsden’s first acts was to create an ordered list of the riskiest ingredients on the restaurant’s menu. At the top of his list? Chipotle’s beef. Though there likely wasn’t one smoking gun that caused the outbreaks, in terms of particular ingredients, sources indicate Chipotle had narrowed its investigation to a select few items, including onions, cilantro, and beef. Cross-contamination was likely, but because the company’s E. coli outbreaks were limited to around 60 infected people, some food-safety sources suggest it was more than likely Chipotle’s beef was the original culprit that carried the E. coli, since it is a cooked item (unlike, say, cilantro), which may have reduced how widespread the outbreak could have been.
Or, familiarity breeds contempt, and Marsden would be most familiar with beef.
Likewise, the company, which briefly moved the preparation and sanitation of lettuce to its central kitchens after the outbreaks, has since returned heads of romaine to its stores. How can it do this without risking another outbreak? For the lettuce at least, Chris Arnold, the Chipotle spokesperson, says the company has introduced a new “multi-step washing process” to reduce the risk of pathogens. Marsden boasted to me how Chipotle’s lettuce is safer now because it implemented what’s called “harvest testing,” meaning that it is tested in the field before being shipped to suppliers. But this is a baseline standard in the industry; the company was already doing harvest testing before the crisis.
And those bugs are hard to wash off.
A bunch of us figured out on-farm food safety 20 years ago, to prevent, as much as possible, bugs getting on things like lettuce.
No mention of that.
But lettuce ain’t beef.
Marsden has also unveiled his own testing system, to replace the solution initially implemented by Samadpour, the outside consultant from IEH Laboratories (who has since stopped working with Chipotle). This new system centers on “routinely” verifying the efficacy of Chipotle’s intervention requirements. Rather than having suppliers take and test more frequent samples of raw beef, for example, they can now test at far fewer intervals because the meat is precooked; they’re primarily doing this to ensure that kill steps, such as the sous-vide process of cooking steak, are working properly.
The company has suggested that it is now “doing more testing than we have ever done,” as Arnold tells me. Upfront, this new testing system requires resource-intensive validation studies, to ensure that the entire system is functioning correctly. But after these studies are performed, the company’s food will undergo substantially less food testing than it was under Samadpour. As with Samadpour’s testing program, there are complicated pros and cons to Marsden’s system, but as one neutral food-safety observer says, “If you’re in a courtroom and you listen to both sides of the argument, it’s hard to say that anyone is 100% correct. It’s all wrapped up in a lot of academic infighting and politics.”
This infighting is not purely academic. According to four sources familiar with the situation, Heidi Wederquist, Chipotle’s director of QA and food safety, disagreed with the direction of the company’s program. She has since departed Chipotle to join Samadpour’s IEH Laboratories. Her second in command, Chipotle’s former QA manager, followed her to IEH as well. (Arnold says he cannot comment on the reason for Wederquist’s departure. Wederquist did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this matter.)
Following the outbreaks, Steve Ells, Chipotle’s founder and co-CEO, indicated to the public that the company would soon be 10 to 15 years ahead of the restaurant industry in terms of food safety.
More unsubstantiated bragging.
The program Marsden developed, centered on interventions, is a strong system, industry experts say, but it’s not exactly revolutionary. Kill steps are common in the restaurant industry, as is the type of testing Marsden adopted. If anything, this new food-safety system has raised questions about how fresh Chipotle’s food remains today.
The efficacy of Chipotle’s food-safety system is still left, to an extent, up to its crew workers, who are expected to properly wash items such as its lettuce; properly blanch much of its produce; properly handle and cook raw chicken; and properly follow in-restaurant hygiene protocols, such as hand washing, temperature logs, and other food audits. These 60,000 crew workers make an average of $10 an hour and the average Chipotle restaurant sees its headcount turn over at least once a year.
Boasting about academic prowess, at least in the public literature, used to be more subtle.
They have a lot of numerical models about why good people do bad things (to make money) and avoid the simplest solution – market food safety at retail.
But judge for yourself on the quality of so-called scientific scholarship:
In this paper, based on the imbalance of the supply-demand relationship of food, we design a spreading model of food safety risk, which is about from food producers to consumers in the food supply chain. We use theoretical analysis and numerical simulation to describe the supply-demand relationship and government supervision behaviors’ influence on the risk spread of food safety and the behaviors of the food producers and the food retailers.
We also analyze the influence of the awareness of consumer rights protection and the level of legal protection of consumer rights on the risk spread of food safety. This model contributes to the explicit investigation of the influence relationship among supply-demand factors, the regulation behavioral choice of government, the behavioral choice of food supply chain members and food safety risk spread.
And this paper provides a new viewpoint for considering food safety risk spread in the food supply chain, which has a great reference for food safety management.
The conclusion also has some gems:
In this paper, we design a food safety risk spread model from food producer-to-consumer in the food supply chain based on the imbalance of the supply-demand relationship of food. We use theoretical analysis and numerical simulation to describe the
influence and active mechanism of the supply-demand relationship and government supervision behaviors on the risk spread of food safety and the behaviors of the food producers and the food retailers. We also analyze the effect of the awareness of consumer rights protection and the level of legal protection of consumer rights on the risk spread of food safety. The theoretical analysis and numerical simulation result showed that, (1) with the increase in the imbalance of the supply-demand relationship, the risk spread rate of unsafe food appeared the phenomenon of accelerated increasing. Thus stabilize the market supply-demand relationship of food is most important part of government regulatory. (2) the behaviors of government supervision behaviors and strategy choice more significant effect on controlling the risk spread of unsafe food, enhancing the sampling rate of the food retailers, and decreasing the raw material adulteration rate of the food producers. Thus the government should strengthen the many-links supervision of food supply chain. (3) intensifying the awareness of consumer rights protection and enhancing in the level of legal protection of consumer rights effectively decreased the risk spread rate of unsafe food. Thus the government should build effective system of consumer rights protection, and inspire consumer taking legal action to defend their rights and interests when they finding unqualified products. Certainly, this model and numerical simulation also have certain scope of application and limitations, for example the variable design and parameter value selection, and the demand elasticity characteristics of food.
However, eating undercooked or raw chicken can cause food poisoning via the campylobacter bacteria, which can cause severe stomach pain and diarrhea.
Raw beef liver and raw pork are banned, but no such restrictions have been imposed on raw chicken, despite many cases of food poisoning caused by eating tainted bird meat.
“It is not fatty, and I love it. I never worry about food poisoning,” said a 39-year-old company employee enjoying a plate of chicken sashimi at a yakitori bar in Tokyo.
The owner of the yakitori bar added, “Chicken sashimi and tataki have been some of our popular dishes since we opened (50 years ago). I am careful about campylobacter.”
The owner said she purchases chickens freshly butchered in the morning for sashimi, and the meat is boiled in hot water until the surface turns white. No cases of food poisoning have ever been reported related to her restaurant.
In June this year, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare finally took action and advised regional public health centers to take steps to implement preventative measures to reduce food poisoning from raw chicken.
Although the advisory is not legally binding, the ministry printed fliers asking restaurants to change their practices.
“Re-evaluate raw and half-raw chicken menus,” the flier reads, urging restaurants to heat the meat at 75 degrees at its core for one minute.
More than 800 people complained about stomachaches or diarrhea in Tokyo and Fukuoka in April and May after eating chicken breast sashimi and chicken sushi rolls at events made by the same company.
The mass food poisoning in the span of two months prompted the ministry to issue its advisory.
According to ministry preliminary statistics, there were 56 cases with 395 people treated at the hospital for food poisoning from campylobacter from June to August. More than half of the identified causes were due to consuming chicken.
Another ministry report says that 67 percent of chicken meat processed for consumption tested positive for the bacteria, and freshness does not always mean safe.
“There is a certain demand for raw chicken eating, and it is part of our food culture,” a health ministry official said.
The ministry plans to estimate the number of campylobacter infection cases that go unreported to gauge the extent of the food poisoning as it only causes minor diarrhea in some cases. In addition, the ministry seeks to implement sterilizing methods, such as rapid freezing technology or food disinfectants.
“We never expect the public to consume chickens raw,” said Teruaki Oshima with the Japan Chicken Association, which is made up of meat producers and food processing companies. “If consumers choose to eat raw chicken, they should carefully consider the risks, and the level of hygiene and credibility of the restaurant.”
That’s what I was told in all those training sessions I did for Fort Riley folks headed to Afghanistan or Iraq or wherever.
Seems the foes are just finding this out.
Prayer won’t make food safe, but science can help.
ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, along with three leaders of the group suffered from severe poisoning after eating a meal on the Iraqi – Syrian border, southwest of the province of Nineveh, according to “Sputnik” website.
Sputnik stated, “We received accurate intelligence information stating that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and three senior leader of the so-called ISIS.
We installed 130 electronic hand hygiene counting devices in our redesigned outpatient department. We remotely monitored physicians’ hand hygiene practices during outpatient examinations and calculated the adherence rate as follows: number of hand hygiene counts divided by the number of outpatients examined multiplied by 100. Physician individual adherence rates were also classified into 4 categories.
Two hundred and eighty physicians from 28 clinical departments were monitored for 3 months. The overall hand hygiene adherence rate was 10.7% at baseline, which improved significantly after feedback to 18.2% in the third month. Of the clinical departments, 78.6% demonstrated significant improvement in hand hygiene compliance. The change in the percentage of physicians in each category before and after feedback were as follows: very low (84.3% to 72.1%), low (8.6% to 14.3%), moderate (2.9% to 8.9%), and high (4.3% to 4.6%), from the first to third month, respectively. Based on category assessment, 17.1% of physicians were classified as responders.
Physicians’ adherence to hand hygiene practices during outpatient examinations was successfully monitored remotely using electronic counting devices. Audit and feedback of adherence data may have a positive impact on physicians’ hand hygiene compliance.
Utility of electronic hand hygiene counting devices for measuring physicians’ handwashing
American Journal of Infection Control, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ajic.2016.08.002
A Arai, M Tanabe, A Nakamura, D Yamasaki, Y Muraki, T Kaneko, A Kadowaki, M Ito
High-throughput whole-genome sequencing (WGS) is a revolutionary tool in public health microbiology and is gradually substituting classical typing methods in surveillance of infectious diseases. In combination with epidemiological methods, WGS is able to identify both sources and transmission-pathways during disease outbreak investigations.
This review provides the current state of knowledge on the application of WGS in the epidemiology of Campylobacter jejuni, the leading cause of bacterial gastroenteritis in the European Union.
We describe how WGS has improved surveillance and outbreak detection of C. jejuni infections and how WGS has increased our understanding of the evolutionary and epidemiological dynamics of this pathogen. However, the full implementation of this methodology in real-time is still hampered by a few hurdles. The limited insight into the genetic diversity of different lineages of C. jejuni impedes the validity of assumed genetic relationships. Furthermore, efforts are needed to reach a consensus on which analytic pipeline to use and how to define the strains cut-off value for epidemiological association while taking the needs and realities of public health microbiology in consideration.
Even so, we claim that ample evidence is available to support the benefit of integrating WGS in the monitoring of C. jejuni infections and outbreak investigations.
Use of whole-genome sequencing in the epidemiology of Campylobacter jejuni infections: state-of-knowledge
Ahead of print, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1101/078550
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control worked with public health and regulatory officials in many states and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate a multistate outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) infections.
Illnesses started on dates ranging from December 21, 2015 to September 5, 2016. Ill people range in age from 1 year to 95, with a median age of 18. Seventy-six percent of ill people were female. Seventeen ill people were hospitalized. One person developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure, and no deaths were reported.
Epidemiologic, laboratory, and traceback evidence indicated that flour produced at a General Mills facility in Kansas City, Missouri was the likely source of this outbreak.
In interviews, ill people answered questions about the foods they ate and other exposures in the week before they became ill. Twenty-eight (76%) of 37 people reported that they or someone in their household used flour in the week before they became ill. Nineteen (50%) of 38 people reported eating or tasting raw homemade dough or batter. Twenty-one (57%) of 37 people reported using Gold Medal brand flour. Three ill people, all children, reported eating or playing with raw dough at restaurants.
In an epidemiologic investigation, investigators compared the responses of ill people in this outbreak to those of people of similar age and gender reported to state health departments with other gastrointestinal illnesses. Results from this investigation indicated an association between getting sick with STEC and someone in the household using Gold Medal brand flour.
Federal, state, and local regulatory officials performed traceback investigations using package information collected from ill people’s homes and records collected from restaurants where ill people were exposed to raw dough. These initial investigations indicated that the flour used by ill people or used in the restaurants was produced during the same week in November 2015 at the General Mills facility in Kansas City, Missouri, where Gold Medal brand flour is produced.
On May 31, 2016, General Mills recalled several sizes and varieties of Gold Medal Flour, Gold Medal Wondra Flour, and Signature Kitchens Flour due to possible E. coli contamination. The recalled flours were produced in the Kansas City facility and sold nationwide.
In June 2016, laboratory testing by FDA isolated STEC O121 in open samples of General Mills flour collected from the homes of ill people in Arizona, Colorado, and Oklahoma. WGS showed that the STEC O121 isolates from the flour samples were closely related genetically to the STEC O121 isolates from ill people. The flour collected in Oklahoma was not included in the initial General Mills recall. The other flour samples that were tested came from lots of flour included in the initial recall announced by General Mills. In July 2016, laboratory testing by General Mills and FDA isolated STEC O26 from a sample of General Mills flour. WGS showed that the STEC O26 isolated from the flour sample was closely related genetically to isolates from an ill person in the PulseNet database. The flour tested was not included in the earlier General Mills recalls. As a result of these findings, General Mills expanded its recall on July 1, 2016 and again on July 25, 2016 to include more production dates.
Although the outbreak investigation is over, illnesses are expected to continue for some time. The recalled flour and flour products have long shelf lives and may still be in people’s homes. Consumers who don’t know about the recalls could continue to eat the products and get sick. A list of the recalled products and how to identify them is available on the Advice to Consumers page.
This outbreak is a reminder that is it not safe to taste or eat raw dough or batter, whether made from recalled flour or any other flour. Flour or other ingredients used to make raw dough or batter can be contaminated with STEC and other germs that can make people sick.
Jeff Karoub of the Boston Globe reports Michigan’s former state epidemiologist acknowledged in a plea deal Wednesday that she was aware of dozens of cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the Flint area around the same time the city changed its water source, but that she didn’t report it to the general public.
Corrine Miller, the former director of disease control and prevention at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, faced three charges stemming from the investigation into Flint’s lead-contaminated water crisis. She pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor of willful neglect of duty in exchange for prosecutors dropping felony misconduct and conspiracy charges.
Flint switched from Detroit’s water system to the Flint River to save money in 2014. But tests later showed that the river water was improperly treated and coursed through aging pipes and fixtures, releasing toxic lead.
The plea agreement states that Miller was aware of the Legionnaires’ cases in 2014, and reported to someone identified only as ‘‘Suspect 2’’ that the outbreak ‘‘was related to the switch in the water source’’ after compiling data about the illness in Genesee County. No explanation is given in the plea deal as to why the cases weren’t publicly reported.
A definitive connection between the corrosive river water and Legionnaires’ has not been made, but many experts believe it probably was the cause.
In what could be yet another case of PR before publication, Science Nordic has issued a press release extolling the virtues of thawing meat in cold water rather than in the fridge. The PR does not address issues of cross-contamination, how a consumer would determine if the meat was actually thawed, and most important, fails to cite a peer-reviewed publication, other than saying, “based on the institute’s own experiments with freezing and thawing different kinds of foods.”
If it has been published, it’s standard to include a link to that research, otherwise, it’s a fluff piece.
But you decide.
Most people know that food should be frozen as quickly as possible, to retain quality and flavour. The same turns out to be true when it comes to thawing frozen food, too —quicker is better.
So says Susanne Ekstedt, a researcher at the Food and Bioscience unit of SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden in Gothenburg.
“This is something food scientists have known to be true for a long time now. But this knowledge is mostly confined to the food industry. Most people don’t seem to be aware of this,” Ekstedt said.
What often happens instead is that people thaw their meats slowly in the refrigerator. While keeping meat cold while thawing is important to limit bacterial growth, it’s possible to thaw food quickly in water.
Ekstedt’s recommendation is based on the institute’s own experiments with freezing and thawing different kinds of foods. Their conclusion: The best way to thaw frozen meat or fish is to put it in cold water. You have to wrap the food in plastic, of course, to keep the water out of the food, but water will thaw food quickly and effectively.
The reason for this is simple: Water conducts heat better than air. And the faster food is thawed, the better it tastes.
One reason that freezing and thawing foods quickly preserves their quality has to do with ice crystal formation.
When anything, be it snow or food, stays slightly below the freezing point for a long time, it creates the perfect environment for large ice crystals to grow.
In food, the formation of these large ice crystals during freezing can do a great deal of damage to cells, reducing the food’s ability to hold in fluids after it is thawed.
The result? Dry meat and flaccid vegetables.
Clarence Birdseye, who is credited with being the founder of the modern frozen food industry in the United States, is said to have discovered this principle himself when he worked in Labrador and was taught by the native Inuits how to ice fish.
He discovered that fish he caught at -40 degrees C froze quickly and tasted quite fresh when thawed. He went on to invent a series of techniques that allowed foods to be frozen quickly, preventing the formation of large ice crystals.
To this day, the food industry is well aware of the problems posed by ice crystal formation. In fact, it’s not uncommon to buy frozen vegetables with labels that advise consumers to thaw vegetables quickly.
Bjørg Egelandsdal is a professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences in Ås whose specialty is meat.
“There has never been any good scientific evidence behind the advice that food should be thawed in the refrigerator,” she says.
“Maybe the idea behind this advice is that refrigerator thawing is most hygienic. It is true that meat and other foodstuffs should be stored in the refrigerator if they are thawed, but it is definitely better to thaw food quickly in water if you are going to use it right away,” she said.
Another potentially quick way to defrost food, the microwave, can be hard on meat, says Per Einar Granum, a microbiologist also at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.
He says if you are going to use the meat in a casserole or stew, thawing it in a microwave can be acceptable, because the meat will later become tender as it cooks.
But if you plan to grill your meat, forget the microwave. Even if you use the “thaw” program, it is “a little too brutal for the meat,” he says.