Surveys still suck: Consumer-reported handling of raw poultry products at home

Salmonella and Campylobacter cause an estimated combined total of 1.8 million foodborne infections each year in the United States. Most cases of salmonellosis and campylobacteriosis are associated with eating raw or undercooked poultry or with cross-contamination. Between 1998 and 2008, 20% of Salmonella and 16% of Campylobacter foodborne disease outbreaks were associated with food prepared inside the home.

barfblog.Stick It InA nationally representative Web survey of U.S. adult grocery shoppers (n = 1,504) was conducted to estimate the percentage of consumers who follow recommended food safety practices when handling raw poultry at home. The survey results identified areas of low adherence to current recommended food safety practices: not washing raw poultry before cooking, proper refrigerator storage of raw poultry, use of a food thermometer to determine doneness, and proper thawing of raw poultry in cold water.

Nearly 70% of consumers reported washing or rinsing raw poultry before cooking it, a potentially unsafe practice because “splashing” of contaminated water may lead to the transfer of pathogens to other foods and other kitchen surfaces.

Only 17.5% of consumers reported correctly storing raw poultry in the refrigerator. Sixty-two percent of consumers own a food thermometer, and of these, 26% or fewer reported using one to check the internal temperature of smaller cuts of poultry and ground poultry. Only 11% of consumers who thaw raw poultry in cold water reported doing so correctly.

The study results, coupled with other research findings, will inform the development of science-based consumer education materials that can help reduce foodborne illness from Salmonella and Campylobacter.

Journal of Food Protection®, Number 1, January 2015, pp. 4-234, pp. 180-186(7)

Kosa, Katherine M.; Cates, Sheryl C.; Bradley, Samantha; Chambers IV, Edgar; Godwin, Sandria

Brisbane woman allegedly served raw chicken in ‘healthy choices’ McDonald’s wrap at Deception Bay

With all the Salmonella outbreaks going on in Brisbane (that’s in Australia) a woman claims she was served raw chicken from McDonald‘s at Deception Bay yesterday.

hero_pdt_snack_wrap_crispyPersonal trainer Gizela Tahuri, who had not eaten McDonald’s for two years previously, said the ordeal reminded her why.

“So much for healthy choices,” Ms Tahuri said.

“I bought a spicy mayo crispy chicken wrap.

“I probably had two large mouthfuls before I thought the chicken was really soft and it looked raw.

“I instantly felt like I was going to vomit.”

She discovered the raw meat after taking her chicken wrap home.

A McDonald’s spokesman said:

barfblog.Stick It In“We are disappointed that this has happened. We take food safety very seriously and have strict processes and systems in place.”

An investigation is currently under way with the restaurant, and we encourage the customer to contact us to help us to investigate fully.”

Meathead: thermometers and food safety

After picking up a piece about Meathead Goldwyn and his science-based approach to cooking on AmazingRibs.comit involves a thermometer – the man himself contacted me and shared a few resources which are worth passing along.

backlit_thermapenFirst is a comprehensive review of almost 100 thermometers, mostly digital. You can use the search options at left or scroll down to see some of our favorites. The options can be confusing so you might first want to click here to read more about how thermometers work and why some are better than others.

Second is a database of food safety tips. Both are great.

Stick it in: Salmonella Typhimurium survives some poultry-based meat preparations

The burden of foodborne diseases still represents a threat to public health; in 2012, the domestic setting accounted for 57.6% of strong-evidence EU food-borne Salmonella outbreaks. Next to cross-contamination, inadequate cooking procedure is considered as one of the most important factors contributing to food-borne illness.

barfblog.Stick It InThe few studies which have assessed the effect of domestic cooking on the presence and numbers of pathogens in different types of meat have shown that consumer-style cooking methods can allow bacteria to survive and that the probability of eating home-cooked poultry meat that still contains surviving bacteria after heating is higher than previously assumed. Thus, the main purpose of this study was to reproduce and assess the effect of several types of cooking treatments (according to label instructions and not following label instructions) on the presence and numbers of Salmonella Typhimurium DT 104 artificially inoculated in five types of poultry-based meat preparations (burgers, sausages, ready-to-cook-kebabs, quail roulades and extruded roulades) that are likely to be contaminated by Salmonella. Three contamination levels (10 cfu/g; 100 cfu/g and 1000 cfu/g) and three cooking techniques (grilling, frying and baking) were applied.

Cooking treatments performed according to label instructions eliminated Salmonella Typhimurium (absence per 25 g) for contamination levels of 10 and 100 cfu/g but not for contamination levels of 1000 cfu/g. After improper cooking, 26 out of 78 samples were Salmonella-positive, and 23 out of these 26 samples were artificially contaminated with bacterial loads between 100 and 1000 cfu/g. Nine out of 26 samples provided quantifiable results with a minimum level of 1.4 MPN/g in kebabs (initial inoculum level: 100 cfu/g) after grilling and a maximum level of 170 MPN/g recorded in sausages (initial inoculum level: 1000 cfu/g) after grilling.

Kebabs were the most common Salmonella-positive meat product after cooking, followed by sausages, burgers and extruded roulades; in relation to the type of cooking treatment applied, Salmonella Typhimurium was detected mostly after frying.

Thus, following label instructions mostly, but not always, produced safe cooked poultry-based meat preparations, while the application of inadequate cooking treatments was not able to assure complete elimination of Salmonella from the products even with a low contamination level (10 cfu/g). Consequently, there is a need to develop guidelines for producers and consumers and promote a multidisciplinary educational campaign in order to provide information on safe cooking and time-temperature combinations able to maintain the organoleptic qualities of meat.

International Journal of Food Microbiology, Volume 197, 16 March 2015, Pages 1–8

Anna Roccato, Mieke Uyttendaele, Veronica Cibin, Federica Barrucci, Veronica Cappa, Paola Zavagnin, Alessandra Longo, Antonia Ricci

Meathead: This is how you cook meat (it involves a thermometer)

If you have a question—any question—about grilling, smoking, or outdoor cooking, chances are extremely high your search will end at

MeatheadWith more than one million monthly visitors, Amazing Ribs is the go-to guide for everything barbecue. There’s good reason: The site takes a scientific approach to the art of outdoor cooking, carefully explaining the correct way to smoke the perfect turkey, barbecue a beautiful rack of baby backs, and just about everything else related to the grill. 

Don’t let the science angle throw you. The content—recipes, techniques, and gadget reviews—is anything but boring. It’s all spelled out by the humorous, down-to-earth hand of Meathead Goldwyn, the site’s founder and burning coal.

“It’s all about authenticity,” Goldwyn told Yahoo Food, when asked about the secret to his site’s success. “We don’t accept the common wisdom as fact. We do a lot of testing and myth-busting. A lot of information has been around for centuries that science proves false.” 

Goldwyn’s worked as a journalist for most of his life, which explains his deep-rooted cynicism. He developed a love of science early on, taught at top schools, and has judged dozens of high-profile food and drink competitions. He’s also married to a leading food safety scientist at the FDA. 

barfblog.Stick It InWe recently caught up with Goldwyn (he actually prefers to be called Meathead, a nickname his father bestowed in tribute to the son-in-law on All In the Family; only his mother calls him by his birth name, Craig) to grill him on his best tips and tricks. 

INVEST IN A THERMOMETER. Don’t even attempt to grill before you buy both a high-quality digital thermometer to measure the heat inside the grill and an instant-read digital meat thermometer. The thermometers that come with grills, Goldwyn warned, are useless. “Spray paint it black and ignore it,” he said. “It’s often off by 50 degrees. Worse, it’s in the dome of the grill, six inches away from the meat. You’re cooking the meat, not the dome.” 

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.

Shock and shame: Supermarket food safety failings make case for scrutiny

Perhaps my Scottish food safety friend can comment. Thermometers would help.

chicken.thermRichard Lloyd, executive director of Which? makes a strong case in The Scotsman for strong control of Campylobacter.

For the first time, the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) named and shamed seven of the biggest supermarkets based on its testing results for Campylobacter. It wasn’t pretty reading, with the food safety watchdog detailing how more than 70 per cent of the fresh chickens it tested were contaminated with the potentially lethal bug.

Asda was found to have the highest levels, at 78 per cent, but none of the major retailers did well in this survey or met the FSA’s agreed joint industry target. The lowest rates were found in Tesco but it still had nearly two-thirds of samples contaminated (64 per cent). The results are a damning indictment of our big supermarkets, and consumers will be shocked at the failure of trusted household brands to stem the tide of increasingly high levels of Campylobacter. Supermarket bosses should hang their heads in shame.

The FSA’s retailer results were actually worse than a previous survey last August which didn’t name individual stores but showed around six in ten fresh chicken samples tested were contaminated with campylobacter. In research we undertook, as part of our new Make Chicken Safe campaign, we found six in ten people (61 per cent) expressed concern about these high levels, with three-quarters (77 per cent) saying they thought they were too high. More than half (55 per cent) thought that there wasn’t enough information available regarding Campylobacter levels in chicken.

By releasing information about which supermarkets are most affected, in the face of extreme pressure from industry to keep it anonymous, we hope the FSA will pile public pressure on the poor performers to improve and give consumers better information about campylobacter levels. We now want to see supermarkets not only publish effective plans to tackle these scandalously high levels but also demonstrate they’re taking real action to make chicken safe.

Although Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning, cooking chicken at temperatures above 70ºC (165ºF) will kill the bacteria. And there are simple ways to minimize cross-contamination at home, for example not washing raw chicken, because the water can spray bacteria onto the surrounding area of your kitchen.

But we don’t think the onus should be on consumers to tackle this bug. Nearly nine in ten people (86 per cent) say they assume the food they buy from supermarkets won’t make them ill, and three-quarters of people (76 per cent) trust that the fresh chicken supermarkets stock is safe to eat. That is why Which?’s Make Chicken Safe campaign is calling for joint action from the supermarkets, regulator and the chicken processing industry to set out action to bring Campylobacter levels under control; and to publish the results of all the campylobacter testing they undertake.

barfblog.Stick It InControls need to be tightened at every stage of the supply chain, from farms to supermarkets. There can be no shirking responsibility – everyone involved in producing and selling chickens must act now and tell consumers what they’re doing to make sure the chicken we eat is safe. It’s now vital that the industry cleans up its act and works hard to restore consumer confidence.

Reducing Campylobacter levels must also be firmly on the agenda for the new food safety body for Scotland, Food Standards Scotland (FSS), which will shortly be established as part of the Food (Scotland) Bill. Consumers need to be confident in the food they are buying and we want the FSS to put consumers at the heart of its work, right from the start.

To do this, FSS needs teeth and a team of experts led by a proactive chief executive who will be a true consumer champion – starting with tackling the campylobacter scandal.

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.”

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 is “an outstanding resource” but I’m just doing what I do.)