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.


Piping hot or steaming hot? Stick it in; another UK E. coli outbreak, more bad advice

Health chiefs have issued a food safety warning after recording “a higher than usual number” of cases of a potentially deadly strain of E. coli.

A statement from the health board said: “NHS Tayside has been notified of a higher than usual number of people who have become ill recently with E.coli O157 infection. Although the total number of cases remains small, we ben-neware investigating this in line with normal procedures, as we would for all cases of E.coli O157. …

“Always ensure that meat is cooked throughout, none of the meat is pink and the juices run clear. … If you’re barbecuing for lots of people, you could cook meat indoors and finish it off on the barbecue to add that summer barbecue flavour. When you reheat food on the barbecue, make sure it’s piping hot all the way through before serving.”

Color is a lousy indicator. These science-based publicly-funded organizations need to get the science right.

Australia pushes thermometers for food safety; better than piping hot; makes better cooks

 In Oct. 2004, I gave a keynote talk at the Food Standards Australia New Zealand food safety conference in the Gold Coast, Australia.

Before the talk, I did a live bit for one of the morning talk shows – like Good Morning America, but it was Good Morning Australia. Washing shopping carts was of particular interest.

The interview was done remotely, with me in the kitchen of a somewhat swanky hotel and casino where the meeting was being held. Before we got started, I chatted with the chef about some random food safety stuff. I asked if he served sprouts and he replied he’d worked in southeast Asia, new the risks with raw, and always gave them a quick saute or blanch.

I also noticed he had a tip-sensitive digital thermometer in the front pocket of his chef’s coat, and I asked if he used it, and he said all the time.

I asked if I could borrow the thermometer to use as a prop during the interview, and the media person accompanying me said something like, you can’t talk about thermometers, we can’t even get people to refrigerate their food; the fridge is for the beer.

Seven years later, and the consumer food safety types in Australia have started a push to use thermometers for food safety.

The Food Safety Information Council recommends meat thermometers be used to decrease the risk of food poisoning, but only 23% of Australian households own a meat thermometer and only a third of those with a one have used it in the last month, according to Council commissioned Newspoll research released today.

Food Safety Information Council Chair, Dr Michael Eyles said today, “A meat thermometer is a vital piece of kitchen equipment for both food safety and food quality reasons making it surprising that less than a quarter of households have one, and even more surprising that only about a third of those with one say they have used it in the past month.”

Following the lead of Elizabeth Weise of USA Today who last month wrote of the virtues of thermometers as gifts, Eyles said, “A meat thermometer makes a great Christmas present. … It is not only a small price to pay for the safety of your family and friends but is a minor cost to ensure food is consistently cooked to perfection.”

The national Newspoll study of more than 1200 respondents, 18 years and over found:

• Nearly 1 in 4 (23%) households claim to have a meat thermometer at home. This varies across the country, ranging from 27% in Victoria, to 17% in Queensland.

• Higher income households are significantly more likely to have a meat thermometer. 28% of households with an income of $80,000+ claim to have a meat thermometer, compared to just 17% of households with an income of less than $30,000.

• Among those who have a meat thermometer, only 1 in 3 (35%) claim to have used it in the last month, with half of these (18%) claiming to have used it in the last week.

Self-reported surveys like this one still suck – meaning people know the socially acceptable or desirable answer and lie. So the number of people actually using thermometers is overinflated.

But look at Amy. From learning how to temp a chicken breast in 2005, she’s now using our Comark PDT 300 on bread and cookies to ensure optimum quality (those cookies reached 190-200 F and were excellent). With moving around, different ovens, the humidity, and always trying different recipes, there is significant variability in actual oven temps, moisture levels and heating efficiency. So stick it in.

Surveys continue to mislead

 Saying that almost 1-in-5 Americans use a digital thermometer to determine whether a burger is safe to eat is as accurate as surveys that find upwards of 90 per cent of hospital employees wash their hands when they’re supposed to.

In a continuing demonstration of the futility of self-reported surveys, 19 per cent of Americans polled on behalf of the American Meat Institute say they use an instant-read thermometer to determine if beef or poultry burgers are safe to eat (160F and 165F respectively).

When some form of direct observation is used to evaluate medical handwashing rates, the numbers hover around 20 per cent – not 90 per cent. Some form of direct observation of thermometer usage would probably find a similar reduction – about 2 per cent of people actually use them.

I’m the first to praise Americans for advocating thermometer use and the first to taunt the Brits for their piping-hot-school-of-safe cooking, but self-reported surveys are a lousy indicator of what is actually going on in kitchens and cook-outs.

Use a thermometer — absolutely perfect steaks

According to the cookbook, Grillin’ with Gas by Hank Hill Fred Thompson, and reproduced on Culinate:

“Judging the doneness of steak is not as much science as it is technique and feel.

“Poke your index finger into your cheek at mouth level. Then press your finger into the steak. If they feel very similar, that’s an indication of a rare steak.

“Touching the tip of your nose gives you the feel of a medium steak, and touching your forehead is a medium-well to well-done steak.”

Use a tip-sensitive thermometer and stick it in.

Gonzalo Erdozain: food porn may give John and Jane Doe the wrong impression about food safety

I learned to cook watching my mom – and cooking shows.

But watching Bobby Flay’s show on grilling was a cross-contamination nightmare.

He touched cooked, ready-to-eat steak right after handling raw dough. After tasting the steak, he went back to the dough. He later prepared some sort of grilled chicken breasts, which would have been fine, except he touched the grapes and everything else that made up his salad without washing his hands after handling the raw chicken.

These shows are recorded in different shots and might take proper safety procedures in-between takes, but unless the viewer is told, who would know?

All raw food has the potential to be contaminated, so be the bug. And stick it in with a tip-sensitive digital thermometer.

USDA revises recommended cooking temperature for all whole cuts of meat, including pork, to 145 °F

For all those countries who recommend cooking meat until the juices run clear, or until it’s piping hot, what new words will be used to describe 145F pork? A little pink?

Or as Associated Press reports, “A bit of pink in pork appears to be OK after all.”

Sounds a little (food) pornographic.

And before all those food porn chefs start bragging they knew all along pink pork was safe, provide evidence you know how to use a tip-sensitive digital thermometer and actually do it.

Use a thermometer and stick it in.

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is updating its recommendation for safely cooking pork, steaks, roasts, and chops. USDA recommends cooking all whole cuts of meat to 145 °F as measured with a food thermometer placed in the thickest part of the meat, then allowing the meat to rest for three minutes before carving or consuming.

This change does not apply to ground meats, including ground beef, veal, lamb, and pork, which should be cooked to 160 °F and do not require a rest time. The safe cooking temperature for all poultry products, including ground chicken and turkey, remains at 165 °F.

"With a single temperature for all whole cuts of meat and uniform 3 minute stand time, we believe it will be much easier for consumers to remember and result in safer food preparation," said Under Secretary Elisabeth Hagen. "Now there will only be 3 numbers to remember: 145 for whole meats, 160 for ground meats and 165 for all poultry."

USDA is lowering the recommended safe cooking temperature for whole cuts of pork from 160 °F to 145 °F and adding a three-minute rest time. The safe temperature for cuts of beef, veal, and lamb remains unchanged at 145 °F, but the department is adding a three-minute rest time as part of its cooking recommendations. Cooking raw pork, steaks, roasts, and chops to 145 °F with the addition of a three-minute rest time will result in a product that is both microbiologically safe and at its best quality.

A "rest time" is the amount of time the product remains at the final temperature, after it has been removed from a grill, oven, or other heat source. During the three minutes after meat is removed from the heat source, its temperature remains constant or continues to rise, which destroys pathogens. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has determined that it is just as safe to cook cuts of pork to 145 °F with a three minute rest time as it is to cook them to 160 °F, the previously recommended temperature, with no rest time. The new cooking suggestions reflect the same standards that the agency uses for cooked meat products produced in federally inspected meat establishments, which rely on the rest time of three minutes to achieve safe pathogen reduction.

Appearance in meat is not a reliable indicator of safety or risk. Only by using a food thermometer can consumers determine if meat has reached a sufficient temperature to destroy pathogens of public health concern. Any cooked, uncured red meats – including pork – can be pink, even when the meat has reached a safe internal temperature.

Nick Offerman eats the Ron Swanson turkey burger on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon; was it temped for pregnant Maya Rudolph?

Eater reports that last night on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, actor Nick Offerman and Jimmy Fallon ate the Ron Swanson Turkey Burger, a fried turkey leg inside a grilled hamburger.

Inspired by a recent episode of Parks and Recreation in which the character Ron Swanson had a different idea about what, exactly, a turkey burger was, last month during Burger Week we went ahead and made the beastly thing (with a recipe even).

Leaving the bone in the turkey leg (and in the burger) was somewhat of a åcontentious issue, but Offerman gets it: "The bone is still in there," he said. "It’s a great source of fiber." The drink pairing? Scotch, of course. Also, according to Offerman, he "showed up early to prepare the Ron Swanson Turkey Burger for everybody to see." And we have it on good authority that there’s a making-of video on the way.

Gratuitous food porn shot of the day: lamb rack roast Frenched

I don’t buy gifts for holidays but I will cook and, in the case of Easter, share in the emergence of Spring.

We did some late shopping at the bigger Dillions in Manhattan (Kansas) because they have a better lamb selection and they often discount it as the holiday in question approaches.

Despite being told they only had lamb leg roasts, I was able to find a four rib rack of lamb, Frenched, the ideal amount of meat for the three of us.

I marinated the lamb in a mustard-rosemary-oil-garlic-lime sorta mixture for about an hour, and then roasted along with potatoes in a 450F oven. Once the internal temperature reached about 125F I removed the lamb and it rose to the preferred 140F after 10 minutes of resting.

Also on the menu was new asparagus from some southern state and green beans with scallions, garlic and almonds.

Dessert was an aged goat milk (pasteurized) cheese on slices of whole grain baguette.

Temperature is critical, not only for safety but as an objective measure of cooking. Take that digital, tip-sensitive thermometer, and stick it in.

Sorenne enjoys her lamb pops almost as much as the nose of the chocolate bunny.


Our medium rare burgers are safe, hubris edition

During my graduate studies Doug introduced me to the term hubris: overconfident pride and arrogance resulting in some sort of hardship.

I think hubris first came up when I scored a goal in a weekly pick-up hockey game, discussed how great I was, and then on the very next play gave up the puck resulting in a goal against.

As a response to Sunday’s New York Times article by Michael Moss profiling a 2007 ground beef linked outbreak of E. coli O157:H7, the Washington City Paper asked a few restaurateurs what they thought about the story. 

As part of the series of interviews, Mark Bucher, founder and co-owner of BGR: The Burger Joint offered up his hubris-y take on why his business was sure that their sub-160F burgers are safe.

Bucher: We source only Prime Beef, which is the top 2% of all beef produced in the U.S. Our beef comes from corn-fed Midwestern farms. The beef is transported to Baltimore for processing at a very small 3rd generation family-owned facility (that actually processes Kosher beef), so their standards are much higher than the USDA’s. Our processor only produces burgers for us and for no one else. It’s an artisinal process, from start to finish. We test our beef very frequently for bacteria strains.  As recently as last week, we tested our product as part of our normal quality control, and it came back completely 100% perfect.

Our beef is safe to eat, and our burgers are “gorgeous” at medium-rare. I have no issues or questions about the safety of our ground beef. I am 1000% confident of the source, the muscles used, and the processing techniques.

Can’t infrequently test your way to safe food Mark; no matter how many thousands or millions of percent you are confident in the source. Sure, testing is one step you can take to know more about your products but sampling is a bit of a lottery.  The only way to ensure safety is to stick it in.