Sheila is a former MSc student with me at Kansas State University and a tough military chick. We hardly ever saw each other, because phones and the Internet sometimes work (despite administratium claims to the contrary), but she has kept up the food safety conversation. I was privileged to work with her and a whole bunch of other military food safety folks over the years.
I am a horrible food safety professional.
Not at work. At work I’m a straight-laced, all business, don’t-you-dare-break-the-rules-or-I’ll-kick-you-in-the-nuts kinda girl. My problem is outside of work. When I’m off the clock I turn into Andrew Zimmern’s sister by another mister. I like to eat weird stuff.
I spent 15 years with the U.S. Army as a Food Safety Specialist and got to travel all over the world. While others in the group were sticking to main stream chow hall fare and MREs, which has its own dangers, I was happy to find some random vendor selling mystery meat on a stick by the side of the road. It might have been dog, or monkey, or bat, or rat. I really have no idea, but it sure tasted good. Boiled chicken heads? Roasted sparrows? Camel on a spit? Beaver tater tot hotdish? A whole sheep buried in the desert sand for 2 days? Hell yeah, bring it on! From Africa, Australia, Central America, the South Pacific, the Arctic, the Middle East and the Far East, it didn’t matter where I was I had to try the odd local fare. Still do when I travel. Real haggis is amazing.
Back at home, cooking for myself or eating out, I am also bad. When cooking for others all safety precautions are followed, thermometers, separate cutting boards and utensils for different food types, obsessive hand washing, but I make all kinds of exceptions when food is just for me. E. coli and Salmonella be damned. My eggs need to be over medium. Scrambled eggs are gross. I eat raw, homemade cookie dough. I love homemade eggnog. Don’t give me that store bought boxed crap that tastes like nutmeg infused cardboard. Now if I could find pasteurized eggs in the shell, I’d use them, but out in the Minnesota tundra they just aren’t available. I like my steak on the rare side of medium rare, even if it is needle tenderized. Hamburgers done medium. Sushi is a favorite food and I go for raw and roe. Raw oysters are a heavenly treat.
But here’s the deal. I know the potential consequences of eating all of these risky foods. I am generally healthy, aside from the arthritis and anger issues the Army so generously gave me. I realize healthy people still get food poisoning, but I am willing to occasionally take that risk to enjoy certain foods. I would never force anyone else to do what I do and I often tell people not to do it and why.
Do as I say, not as I do.
And even I have limits. Chicken must be cooked to 165F. I don’t drink raw milk. I rant about the raw pet food trend. And I avoid potlucks like the plague. I’m sure it all tastes great, but I just can’t do it. I don’t trust what most people do in their kitchens unless I’m there to see it. If invited to a party that’s potluck and I can’t get out of it, I bring potato chips and eat before I get there. Weird right?
Oh, and I have 12 beautiful pet snakes of varying sizes and species, but that’s another story.