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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatever, I got to meet and marry Amy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

British holidaymakers take legal action against Thomas Cook after father contracts Salmonella following stay at four-star Turkish resort

A family of five says its four-star holiday to Turkeyd was ruined by illness and one of them tested positive for Salmonella following their return to England.

TC_FC_2007_TURKEYrCheryll Jordan, 45, and her husband Ian, 46 have hired solicitors to investigate the cause of the illness and seek compensation from tour operator Thomas Cook if the hotel is found to be culpable.

The couple travelled with their three children to Hotel Marmaris Palace resort in Dalaman in June this year, expecting 10 days of sun, sea and relaxation.

But the couple say they are angry and upset after they and their seven-year-old son Lewis fell ill with sickness, diarrhoea and abdominal pains a few days into the trip.

It left them confined to their hotel room and still suffering symptoms four months on.

 Bailey, 13, and the couple’s other son Luckas, 5 were the only family members to escape illness. On returning home to Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria, the family saw their GP and Ian was ‘appalled’ to be told he had tested positive for Salmonella.

Thanksgiving in space

According to the food safety nerd historians (and every HACCP class) the world of food safety was revolutionized by a partnership between NASA and Pillsbury.

Jennifer Ross-Nazzal writes about the history in Societal Impact of Space Flight.

Concerned about safety, NASA engineers specified that the food could not crumble, thereby floating into instrument panels or contaminating the capsule’s atmosphere. to meet the outlined specifications, food technologists at Pillsbury developed a compressed food bar with an edible coating to prevent the food from breaking apart. in addition to processing food that would not damage the capsule’s electronics, the food also had to be safe for the astronauts to consume.

Thanksgivinginspac_3120060bAlmost immediately food scientists and microbiologists determined that the assurance of food safety was a problem. [Pillsbury microbiologist Howard] Bauman recalled that it was nearly impossible for companies to guarantee that the food manufactured for the astronauts was uncontaminated.

“We quickly found by using standard methods of quality control there was absolutely no way we could be assured there wouldn’t be a problem,” he said. To determine food safety for the flight crews, manufacturers had to test a large percentage of their finished products, which involved a great deal of expense and left little for the flights.

So HACCP was created.

Today, according to The Telegraph, American astronauts on the International Space Station are enjoying a risk-reduced and HACCP-inspired Thanksgiving meal including irradiated smoked turkey.

NASA Astronauts Terry Virts and Barry Wilmore cobbled together a festive feast by combining foods that are stocked on the station. 

The meal also includes candied yams, freeze-dried dressing, cranapple desert, mashed potatoes, green beans and mushrooms. 

Crew members get ‘bonus containers’ in which they are allowed to carry special items for specific holidays, like Thanksgiving or Christmas.

“The turkey they have available for Thanksgiving has been made shelf-stable by irradiation,” said Vickie Kloeris, ISS Food System Manager 

“So this product is ready to eat and they just warm it up and eat out of a packet with a fork.

Mine is still roasting.

From the uh, no, that’s not evidence-based file: ‘You never want to cook a turkey frozen.’

Thanksgiving food safety coverage is saturating the Interwebs and some of it is good (evidence-based) some isn’t.

Here’s a gem from WVIB in Buffalo:Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 5.24.58 PM

“You never want to cook a turkey frozen,” said [James] Malley. Malley, who’s been a culinary instructor with the Buffalo Public Schools for 17 years, says it’ll be stuck in the danger zone – meaning it won’t be cooked all the way through to the proper temperature. “It will never cook thoroughly. It will never reach that point,” he said.

Uh no.

And Pete Snyder, the patron saint of turkey roasting (among other things) has an excellent, science-based HACCP SOP for cooking turkey from a frozen state. From Pete’s document:

Actually, cooking a turkey from the frozen state has benefits over cooking a thawed turkey. Cooking can be done in a roasting pan, but it is unnecessary. If one thaws a turkey in a home refrigerator, there is a significant risk of raw juice with pathogens at high levels getting on refrigerator surfaces, other foods in the refrigerator, countertops, and sink, thus creating a hazard and a need for extensive cleaning and sanitizing.

Talking turkey with Butterball’s hotline

This is the first American Thanksgiving I’ll be away from Amy, but it’s not such a big deal because it’s too damn hot in Brisbane at this time of year.

turkey.headWe used to run the food safety hotline in Canada, and had all the inquiries you could imagine.

So do the staff at Butterball’s Turkey Talk-Line.

What started in 1981 as a group of six home economists answering calls has grown into a staff of more than 50 food and nutrition experts answering questions via phone, email, online chats and social media.

The hotline is open from early November to the day before Christmas and receives more than 100,000 questions per year. But, not surprisingly, the volume of questions peaks on Thanksgiving day, when the group answers more than 12,000 calls, Sue Smith, co-director of Butterball’s Turkey Talk-line, told USA TODAY Network.

Some of the questions:

• A mother returned home from work to find her husband thawing a frozen turkey in the bathtub while simultaneously washing up the kids. “The kids were like, ‘The water’s cold!’ because, you know, it’s a frozen turkey,” Smith said.

• A woman called the Talk-Line whispering her questions. When asked to speak up, the newlywed explained she was hiding in the closet from her mother-in-law, whom she was trying to impress.

• A young man hosting his first Thanksgiving called the Talk-Line while in a grocery store. A turkey expert stayed on the phone as he walked the aisle, advising him of all the items he’d need to buy.

• A landlord called panicked because his oven was too small to cook a turkey. He eventually was able to “rent” one from a tenant for $25. He thought he’d have to interrupt them every 10 minutes to baste it, but called the Talk-Line to learn that Butterball turkeys come pre-basted.

butterball• A woman lost power one hour into cooking her turkey and called the Talk-Line. The hotline talked her through transferring her turkey to her gas grill to continue cooking. What accounted for the outage? The caller’s neighbor had crashed into a power line while hang gliding.

But not all calls are quite that dramatic.

“How do I thaw my turkey?” is the most commonly asked question, according to Smith. One way is to put it in your refrigerator several days before Thanksgiving. It take one day for every 4 pounds, Smith said. But if it’s too late for that approach, the fastest way is to thaw it in water.

Salmonella soup – a bad Thanksgiving tradition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Step away from the turkey II: bad advice from experts?

Thanksgiving brings a flurry of turkey tips, but the folks at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Extension seem to have some conflicting advice.

More-doctors-smoke-Camels-than-any-other-cigaretteUniversity of Illinois Extension says, “Wash the turkey inside and out and pat skin dry with paper towels,” yet most other Extension advice is, don’t wash the damn bird, you’ll have bacteria flying everywhere.

And, if smoking is allowed inside, provide guests with deep ashtrays After the guests leave, check inside, under upholstery and in trash cans for smoldering cigarette butts.

Step away from the turkey, do not wash

You’d figure a website called food.com could get some basics right, but no, in the run-up to U.S. Thanksgiving next week, idiocracy rules.

wash.turkey.nov.14“Step 3 Rinse the Turkey

Remove the giblets and neck out of the turkey cavity. Rinse the turkey with cold water inside and out, removing any excess fat and leftover pin feathers. Dry the turkey by patting it with paper towels and place it in a large roasting pan.

TIP If you purchased a frozen turkey, allow about 5 hours of thawing per pound.”

Do not wash the poultry, unless you killed it yourself and need to remove the feathers.