Is the finger test accurate for steak safety? Better to just stick it in

Objectives: To evaluate the reliability of using the thenar eminence to determine steak doneness.

barfblog.Stick It InDesign: Double-blinded, cross-sectional study.

Setting: Various home kitchens in Melbourne, Australia.

Participants: Amateur/home cooks.

Main outcome measures: The accuracy of the finger test (the tenseness of the thenar eminence in different hand positions) for determining how well a random beef steak has been cooked (rare v medium-rare v medium v well-done). We also examined whether participants improved with practice and whether the accuracy of the finger test was correlated with age, sex, cooking experience or self-rated steak-cooking ability.

Results: Twenty-six participants completed the study, and showed that they could accurately determine the doneness of a steak with the finger test better than chance (χ2[1, n = 156] = 9.88; P < 0.01). Their overall accuracy, however, was low (36%). There was no correlation between accuracy in application of the finger test with the other collected participant and steak variables.

Conclusions: The finger test can be used by amateur cooks to determine beef steak doneness. However, the low overall accuracy of the test suggests that more invasive tests are to be recommended for determining steak doneness for its health benefits.


 Studying the Thenar Eminence of Amateur cooKs (STEAK) study: a double-blinded, cross-sectional study

Toby I Vinycomb, Amanda M-Y Tan, Manu Bhatnagar and Joon Ming Wong

Med J Aust 2015; 203 (11): 467-469

Data? Chefs can tell beef is safe by ‘doneness’

In the subdued stories about needle tenderized beef and the risk of Shiga-toxin producing E. coli, state-sponsored jazz (NPR) quotes Chef Bruce finger-testMattel, who’s associate dean for food production at the Culinary Institute of America, as saying that, “An experienced cook can assess ‘doneness’ by the firmness of the product.”

Mattel  redeems himself by saying “it is always best for everyone, including professionals, to use a thermometer.”

Stick it in.

barfblog.Stick It In

From the douchebag files

Some people are lawyers and specialize in rhetoric. It’s that Plato thing.

Some of us submit our opinions to cat scratching peer review, take our lumps and get better.

There’s this bunch of lawyers who say they’re Defending Food Safety.

Probably the worst blog name since Maple Leaf’s “Our Journey to Food Safety Leadership.”

One of them, Shawn Stevens ( wrote on Oct. 22/09 that each year, American families eat somewhere in the neighborhood of 328.5 Billion safe meals – and countless more safe snacks. While any illness or death linked to the consumption of food is one too many, the fact remains that (at three meals a day) you and I are 20 times more likely to die this year from pneumonia or drowning than from a food-borne illness. Although not perfect, the statistics are quite impressive.

As the Sloan song says

When you find you’re a conformer
Take pride and swallow whole

Stevens goes on to say,

As consumers, we are inundated by media “fear-mongering,” and made to believe that with each meal consumed, we draw closer to the precipice of some fathomless tragedy. We are also taught to be suspicious and wary of the people who have dedicated their lives to ensuring that our families are fed, and that our food is wholesome.

You see, food safety is a complicated and dynamic issue. It is easy to be a cynic. It is easy to attack others with the benefit of extended hindsight. It is easy to simplify things to a level that a third grader would find devoid in both substance and fact. The real challenge, however, lies in embracing a reasoned and proactive approach that not only recognizes the limits of technology and science, but, at the same time, within these limits, best reduces the risks most likely to occur to the greatest extent possible.

Dude, you just failed my intro class for most horrible and unsubstantiated metaphors.

But why not reference  our paper, Where does foodborne illness happen–in the home, at foodservice, or elsewhere — and does it matter? Because that would conflict with your world-view?

In any event, for those who continue to ignore science and reason, who contend that food safety is the responsibility of food producers alone, and who wrongly proclaim that food safety is only as simple as “not eating poop,” I say this: given the statistics, what goes into one mouth is often far less harmful than what comes out of another.

I e-mailed the lawyer in question on Friday about the don’t eat poop line, and he decided not to answer. Seriously I don’t want to know what is coming out of his mouth.


Dry hands are 1,000 times safer than damp hands; or so say PR types

What Would Don Draper Do? He’d reject the crappy ad copy, leave it to his underlings if necessary, and walk away. After a large glass of whiskey.

Mike Kapalko, SCA Tissue`s Environmental & Tork Services Manager says,

"Our hands touch 300 different surfaces every 30 minutes. And, according to the CDC, up to 40 percent of Americans could contract the H1N1 virus through 2010.
So properly washing and, equally important, effectively drying your hands is a simple way of dramatically decreasing your risk of being infected. As a leader in
hygienic solutions, Tork provides businesses and consumers with handwashing resources such as posters and educational videos through our website."

The press release says damp hands spread 1,000 times more germs than dry hands2.

This is the reference:

2Patrick, D.R., Findon, G., Miller, T.E., Epidemiology and Infection

That’s not a reference.

“It is therefore as important to dry your hands as it is to wash them carefully with soap and warm water.”

Nah, water temperature doesn’t matter much either.

How hard is it to get it right?


Hamburgers and how to tell if they’re done – the Netherlands version

A bites-barfblog reader from the Netherlands sent along this 2008 video, which has an English-speaking bit with a self-proclaimed hamburger professor in New York (New Amsterdam?) demonstrating the touch-the-hand method of determining whether a hamburger is properly cooked (note: this technique is complete BS).

The technique in question appears about five minutes in.

Simply Recipes explains how to use fingers to test if meat is cooked (total BS)

In the expanding category of really bad food safety advice is this entry from Simply Recipes:

There are two basic methods to test for how done your meat is while you are cooking it – use a meat thermometer, or press on the meat with your finger tips. The problem with the meat thermometer approach is that when you poke a hole into the meat with a thermometer, it can let juices escape, juices that you would rather have stay in the meat. For this reason, most experienced cooks rely on a "finger test" method, especially on steaks (whole roasts are better tested with a thermometer).

For example, the story explains that to test for raw: Open the palm of your hand. Relax the hand. Take the index finger of your other hand and push on the fleshy area between the thumb and the base of the palm. Make sure your hand is relaxed. This is what raw meat feels like.

There’s more. This is what Johnny Cash and I think (below). Stick it in. Use a thermometer.

Thanks to another reader for the tip.


Don’t eat poop cupcakes and more

Things are winding down at Kansas State University for the year – at least on the teaching side. In the past, Amy and I have planned some exotic trip to France or Canada to get out of Kansas for the summer, but this year, we’re staying fairly put, with baby Sorenne. Maybe she’ll get acclimated to the heat.

On Friday, for the second year now, Amy hosted the Modern Languages departmental end-of-semester soiree, where all the language professors get together in a Tower of Babel sorta thing. Good fun, good food. And in a food porn moment, Katie made language-based cupcakes. What’s your favorite?

(Oh, and the A-Goo cupcake was in honor of baby Sorenne, cause she says that a lot.)

Lessons from Wales; fallacy of food safety inspections

Do more inspectors make food safer?


The latest evidence is from Professor Hugh Pennington, who concluded in a report last week that serious failings at every step in the food chain allowed butcher William Tudor to start the 2005 E. coli O157 outbreak, and that while the responsibility for the outbreak, “falls squarely on the shoulders of Tudor,” there was no shortage of errors.

Welsh First Minister Rhodri Morgan picked up on that theme yesterday and pledged to do everything possible to prevent a repeat of the E.coli outbreak of 2005 – for the sake of the families affected.

“Poor hygiene practices at the abattoir and the butcher’s premises” caused the outbreak, but he added,

“These failings were not dealt with effectively by the Meat Hygiene Service or local authority environmental health officers. …” Environmental health inspectors need to “sharpen up” and “drill down beyond the box-ticking part of the inspection process to the potential danger of the reality beyond.”

In his report Pennington said an inspector who made four pre-arranged visits to Tudor’s in the run-up to the outbreak, should not have allowed him to continue using one vacuum-packing machine for both raw and cooked meat because of the risk of cross contamination.

Among his 24 recommendations, Pennington said all checks should be unannounced, unless there were exceptional circumstances.

Don’t tell mom the babysitter’s dead.

Looking out for the farmers of the “safest food in the world”

This summer at the Kansas State Fair, I felt like I was getting a lot of strange looks. I tried to brush it off, telling myself that it was no crime to have never slopped a pig or stolen eggs from under a roosting a hen—I should still be welcome at the fair.

I was positive there were other non-farm girls there. Probably even some that grew up in the city; I, at least, shared a property line with a cow pasture. But people just kept staring.

I really got embarrassed when a representative from the Farm Bureau Federation started to laugh out loud and point at me.

When it finally donned on me that I was wearing my Don’t Eat Poop t-shirt that day, I turned to let him read the back: Wash Your Hands.

I explained that I worked for an organization that wants to turn the public’s attention to food safety.

He seemed to think that particular method was effective. “But do you make farmers look bad?” he asked while raising one eyebrow.

I told him we felt it was important that everyone does their part, from the farm to the fork.

He smiled, but I think he remained skeptical.

I raised my eyebrow today at a press release in which the director of congressional relations in the California Farm Bureau National Affairs and Research Division, Josh Rolph, was quoted as saying,

"Congress and the new administration will be sure to consider changes to the way the government oversees the safety of food production. We want to make sure that any changes don’t prove to be burdensome to farmers, who are growing the safest food supply in the world."

I wish I could meet this guy and stare strangely at him. If anyone’s going to claim to grow the safest food in the world, they’re going to have to take some pains to prove it.

“The nation’s farming community understands the need to improve food safety, Rolph said, but the farm-level impact to producers must be considered in any new food safety proposals.”

Salinas vegetable farmer Dirk Giannini referred to the surge in food safety action plans following the outbreak of E. coli from spinach in 2006, and explained that a frenzy of “non-scientific ideas” were putting farmers out.

"And don’t get me wrong,” said Giannini, “The farmers do not want to jeopardize anyone’s health or life—we have the safest food supply in the world. But the scientific-based decisions are the ones that we need to move forward."

Of course any actions to increase the safety of the food supply should be backed by scientific evidence, but public claims of safety should have the same foundation.

To the farmers who grow the food I appreciate every day: In your products and in your claims, Don’t Sell Poop.

Are petting zoos safe for kids?

Last week, an E.coli outbreak involving at least 17 kids and 3 adults was linked to a Denver cattle show.

In light of that, a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News spent a day at the petting zoo at the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo asking parents if they were worried about the "germs" their kids were being exposed to.

Some said yes; many others were confident in the precautions they were taking.

The stepfather of a three-year-old wasn’t worried. "We wash his hands," he said.

One mother said of her thumb-sucking two-year-old,

“I can’t keep her in a bubble. [But] it’s definitely something I think about every day with her.”

One of the largest petting zoo outbreaks of E.coli O157:H7 to date was linked to the North Carolina State Fair in 2004. A study of the outbreak by Goode and colleagues found,

Persons became infected after contact with manure and engaging in hand-to-mouth behaviors in a petting zoo having substantial E coli O157:H7 contamination.

Use of alcohol-based hand-sanitizing gels was not protective [against infection with E.coli O157:H7], although knowledge of the risk for zoonotic infection was protective.

Are petting zoos safe for kids? Maybe, if you’re aware of the risks and make sure they don’t eat any poop. But that might be easier said than done.

In the San Antonio article, Bill Marler was quoted as saying the threat of exposure to new and dangerous pathogens was too high for him to risk taking a small child or anyone with a compromised immune system to a petting zoo.

It’s your call.