Creator of the Kebab (or donair, the after-bar street meat) dies

Following up on my last post on the passing of the dude who helped create the microwave (and indirectly, caused lots of illnesses in Minnesota) there’s news out of Germany that the creator of the kebab (or donair as it’s known in Halifax or Calgary) has passed away.

 Mahmut Aygün, snack visionary and dab hand with a meat carver, has died of cancer at the age of 87, almost 40 years after permanently changing the drunken dining habits of millions.

The chef was born in Turkey but later moved to Germany in the hope of one day opening his own restaurant. He was serving customers at a snack stall when it dawned on him that kebab meat – a mix of roasted lamb and spices traditionally eaten with rice – could be served differently.

‘I thought how much easier it would be if they could take their food with them,’ he once said.

 (in celebration of the Conchords returning to HBO — the line "I’ll buy you a kebab" is at 2:11)

Donairs have been linked to at least three outbreaks of E.coli O157 in Alberta since 2004. Outbreak investigators found that the cooking practices traditionally used in kebabs and donairs, rotating a cone of meat around a heat source, were problematic.  Often, especially in the post-bar-closing rush, the heat sources are turned up so the outside of the cone gets scorched, but meat just below the surface doesn’t reach safe temperatures (because it’s being cut off quickly to meet the customer demands).  The cooking practice, along with the tendency for the meat cones to be made with ground meat and stored frozen can cause a perfect outbreak scenario.

And then cause the squirts. Or worse.

In response to the outbreaks a national committee was created in Canada to look at the risks associated with the food.  The group recommended that donairs/kebabs/shawarmas/street-meat-on-a-stick should be grilled after cutting off the cone to ensure pathogen-killing temps.  Good call.

I’m all for donairs and street meat. Or late-night chinese food.  Basically anything heavy and greasy tastes good after a few beers, but the places serving them have to know the risks associated with what they are serving, and where things might go wrong. Public health officials and food safety folks need to help businesses with this. If you don’t know what could go wrong, you shouldn’t be serving it.

Here’s a food safety infosheet on donairs from a couple of years ago.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.