Emily Willingham of Everyday Health writes that at least eight people have fallen ill with salmonella-related food poisoning in an outbreak that has triggered a recall of 1.8 million pounds of raw, stuffed chicken products, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in a July 12 announcement.
The culprit in this case is breaded, stuffed, raw chicken breasts produced by Barber Foods in the U.S. and No Name brand in Canada, identified after a cluster of salmonella illnesses cropped up in late June.
- Use thermometers. According to Doug Powell, PhD, a former food science professor at Kansas State University who maintains a blog tracking food safety, if consumers want to protect themselves, they should always use a meat thermometer when cooking meat. Noting that the USDA has required raw products to be labeled as raw and to list the proper cooking temperature for safety, he says that most consumers won’t use thermometers. “They just guess,” Dr. Powell says. “Most people just throw (the food) in the microwave to warm it up (and) don’t carry around thermometers like I do.” The target temperature for poultry is 165 F, which the USDA says should be checked at the center of the meat, at the thickest part.
- Avoid cross-contamination. “Another risk,” he says, “is how much they’re handling (the meat) before it’s cooked.” Powell says that he urges people “be the bug” and think about the surfaces that meat might touch during handling and keep things clean. “Think about where that bacteria is going to be,” he says. According to the CDC, prevention includes immediately washing with warm soap and water any kitchen work surfaces and utensils that come in contact with raw meats.
- Be aware of what could be exposed to salmonella. The bacteria live in the intestines of animals, so anything that could be exposed to intestinal contents can be at risk of salmonella contamination. Powell gives an example: “I’ve got an herb garden in my back yard,” he says, “and I know that birds (poop) on it and that they’re (pooping) salmonella.” Indeed, some outbreaks around the world have not involved meat at all but instead have been associated with plants, including peanuts, spices, and a fruit-based candy. Unpasteurized foods, including unpasteurized milk, are also a risk.
- Pets can be a risk … and at risk. Because of the risk of contamination from exposure to fecal matter, pets like turtles, other reptiles, and baby chicks are particularly prone to being sources of salmonella infection. Says Powell about contact with chickens, which were the source of another recent U.S. outbreak: “You see a cute bird, I see a salmonella vector.” Dogs and cats can actually be infected, with sometimes-severe and long-lasting symptoms, and can pass infection to humans.
- Other outbreaks have also involved raw, stuffed chicken products. According to Powell’s blog, several other salmonella outbreaks have been traced to chicken products like those in the current recall. Powell thinks that products like these should be cooked for the consumer in the first place. “The consumer is not the critical control point,” he says.
- Even the very healthy are not immune to hospitalization. Oakland A’s pitcher Sonny Gray became gravely ill from a recent bout with salmonella and had to be hospitalized. According to reports, his fever reached 103 F, and he required considerable fluid replacement.
- Freezing does not kill salmonella. Powell says that freezing does not knock out the microbes, it just shuts them down temporarily. “Once you warm (the food) up,” he says, “they go to town.”
- Microwaves and salmonella may not mix. The heat in a microwave isn’t very well controlled, according to Powell. Within the food, microwaves “just give tremendously ridiculous differences in heat,” he says, which can mean uneven temperatures and places for the bacteria to persist.
- There’s a reason Minnesota is ground zero for salmonella outbreaks. “Minnesota is particularly good at picking them up,” says Powell, “because they have a well-funded public health system.” So while it might seem like Minnesota has a problem with outbreaks, including another current salmonella outbreak related to frozen raw tuna, the real reason the state appears in so many outbreak stories is because of its strong tracking systems.
- Handwashing is an important preventive measure. Wash hands before and after handling raw meat, pets, or outdoor plants, after swimming, and before eating. “Salmonella is natural and it is there,” says Powell. “Be aware.”
Direct video observation of adults and tweens cooking raw frozen chicken thingies 01.nov.09
British Food Journal, Vol 111, Issue 9, p 915-929
Sarah DeDonder, Casey J. Jacob, Brae V. Surgeoner, Benjamin Chapman, Randall Phebus, Douglas A. Powell
Purpose – The purpose of the present study was to observe the preparation practices of both adult and young consumers using frozen, uncooked, breaded chicken products, which were previously involved in outbreaks linked to consumer mishandling. The study also sought to observe behaviors of adolescents as home food preparers. Finally, the study aimed to compare food handler behaviors with those prescribed on product labels. Design/methodology/approach – The study sought, through video observation and self-report surveys, to determine if differences exist between consumers’ intent and actual behavior.
Findings – A survey study of consumer reactions to safe food-handling labels on raw meat and poultry products suggested that instructions for safe handling found on labels had only limited influence on consumer practices. The labels studied by these researchers were found on the packaging of chicken products examined in the current study alongside step-by-step cooking instructions. Observational techniques, as mentioned above, provide a different perception of consumer behaviors.