It’s tragic to be hip if the science sucks — turkey advice

The U.K. Food Standards Agency is so tragically hip they’ve gone viral.

Except they call it ‘viral,’ encasing the word in what speakers would call “air quotes” or what  Jon Stewart of the Daily Show recently called “dick fingers.” I call it bad writing.

The Agency has launched a new ‘viral’ marketing campaign, which raises awareness to the dangers of eating week-old turkey and gives tips to protect people in the UK from festive food poisoning. …

The new 60-second video aims to raise awareness of bad food hygiene and give some key advice on the safe handling of Christmas leftovers. The shocking but amusing film features a family that hasn’t been following the Agency’s advice on food hygiene. Diarrhoea might be the Christmas gift that keeps on giving, but do you really want to give it to your family?

The Agency advises leftovers should be:

* cooled as quickly as possible (within one to two hours) and kept in the fridge
* reheated only once, until piping hot
* eaten within two days

Who said the film was shocking? Or funny? And what does piping hot mean?

The Australians, who are just entering the hot summer weather, are more reasonable and recommend cooking to 75C (167F).

The origin of poultry cooking recommendations has been pondered many times on

Currently, Health Canada suggests consumers cook turkey until the temperature of the thickest part of the breast or thigh is at least 85C (185F), though no one knows why.

A few decades ago, the USDA was also recommending that thigh meat reached 180-185F and breast meat reached 170F.

When asked why a couple years back, a manager of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Meat and Poultry Hotline said, "I’ve looked all over and I really have no idea. I think it happened sometime back in the 1980s, but I don’t know what it was based on."

One of my research assistants, Casey Jacob, dug up a New York Times article from 1990 in which an assistant supervisor of the Hotline admitted that a turkey cooked until the breast meat is 160F and the dark meat is 170F was "microbiologically safe," but that the agency recommended the higher temps just to be on the safe side.

The agency now recommends that consumers cook poultry to an internal temp of 165F.

Casey tells that tale here:

“When USDA microbiologists finally got around to conducting validation studies in 2000, they figured out that a 7 log reduction in Salmonella could be achieved instantly at 158F and beyond.

“In 2006, NACMCF decided (through scientific studies, of course, not random number generation as may have been used previously) that foodborne pathogens and viruses, such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, and the avian influenza virus, were destroyed when poultry was cooked to an internal temperature of 165F.

“And thus the scientifically validated American recommendation of 165F was born.”

Here are the refs. Enjoy your Christmas dinner.

National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods. 2006. Response to the questions posed by the Food Safety and Inspection Service regarding consumer guidelines for the safe cooking of poultry products. Adopted March 24, 2006. Arlington, VA.

United States Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service. 2005. Time-temperature tables for cooking ready-to-eat poultry products. Available at: Accessed November 23, 2008.

Amy and I will be having lamb.

And this is the real deal, Kingston, Ontario’s very own, Tragically Hip.