What’s wrong with Kansas? Westboro Baptist Church turned into turkey safety hotline by pranksters

Just down the road from my home in Manhattan, Kansas is Topeka’s most despised institution, The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), an American unaffiliated Baptist church known for its extreme ideologies, especially those against gay people.

turkeyAccording to wiki, the church is widely described as a hate group] and is monitored as such by the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center. It was headed by Fred Phelps (although shortly before his death in March 2014, church representatives said that the church had not had a defined leader in “a very long time”), and consists primarily of members of his extended family in 2011, the church stated that it had about 40 members. The church is headquartered in a residential neighborhood on the west side of Topeka about three miles (5 km) west of the Kansas State Capitol.

The church has been involved in actions against gay people since at least 1991, when it sought a crackdown on homosexual activity at Gage Park six blocks northwest of the church In addition to conducting anti-gay protests at military funerals, the organization pickets other celebrity funerals and public events Protests have also been held against Jews and Catholics, and some protests have included WBC members stomping on the American flag.

The WBC is not affiliated with any Baptist denomination. The Baptist World Alliance and the Southern Baptist Convention (the two largest Baptist denominations) have each denounced the WBC over the years The church describes itself as following Primitive Baptist and Calvinist principles.

I guess they have the freedom to exist; and they have the freedom to be hacked.

According to the Christian Post a popular parody news website recently pranked the Westboro Baptist Church by issuing the organization’s phone number as a helpline for a fake turkey-related flu that the site reported on.

The National Report published a story last week that said the CDC had confirmed a new form of Avian flu had been found in turkeys distributed by a major supplier. The site also warned consumers not to eat any turkey on Thanksgiving because the virus had the ability to withstand cooking temperatures.

“In early testing, this virus has shown enormous ability to withstand cooking temperatures,” read the fake report. “This makes this a much more dangerous situation.”

The site claimed the only chance of killing the disease was by deep frying, which the National Report said only worked 50 percent of the time.

“In our food safety laboratory, we have found that only deep frying cooking methods have been effective at reducing the viral load, and even then, by only about 50 percent. At this point, we can not recommend any preparation method as safe.”

The site then issued what it called the “Turkey Safety Hotline” for consumers looking for safety updates. This number happened to be the contact information for the Westboro Baptist Church.

A report from Addicting Info says the church received countless calls which jammed its phone lines.

Talking turkey with Butterball’s hotline

This is the first American Thanksgiving I’ll be away from Amy, but it’s not such a big deal because it’s too damn hot in Brisbane at this time of year.

turkey.headWe used to run the food safety hotline in Canada, and had all the inquiries you could imagine.

So do the staff at Butterball’s Turkey Talk-Line.

What started in 1981 as a group of six home economists answering calls has grown into a staff of more than 50 food and nutrition experts answering questions via phone, email, online chats and social media.

The hotline is open from early November to the day before Christmas and receives more than 100,000 questions per year. But, not surprisingly, the volume of questions peaks on Thanksgiving day, when the group answers more than 12,000 calls, Sue Smith, co-director of Butterball’s Turkey Talk-line, told USA TODAY Network.

Some of the questions:

• A mother returned home from work to find her husband thawing a frozen turkey in the bathtub while simultaneously washing up the kids. “The kids were like, ‘The water’s cold!’ because, you know, it’s a frozen turkey,” Smith said.

• A woman called the Talk-Line whispering her questions. When asked to speak up, the newlywed explained she was hiding in the closet from her mother-in-law, whom she was trying to impress.

• A young man hosting his first Thanksgiving called the Talk-Line while in a grocery store. A turkey expert stayed on the phone as he walked the aisle, advising him of all the items he’d need to buy.

• A landlord called panicked because his oven was too small to cook a turkey. He eventually was able to “rent” one from a tenant for $25. He thought he’d have to interrupt them every 10 minutes to baste it, but called the Talk-Line to learn that Butterball turkeys come pre-basted.

butterball• A woman lost power one hour into cooking her turkey and called the Talk-Line. The hotline talked her through transferring her turkey to her gas grill to continue cooking. What accounted for the outage? The caller’s neighbor had crashed into a power line while hang gliding.

But not all calls are quite that dramatic.

“How do I thaw my turkey?” is the most commonly asked question, according to Smith. One way is to put it in your refrigerator several days before Thanksgiving. It take one day for every 4 pounds, Smith said. But if it’s too late for that approach, the fastest way is to thaw it in water.

Butterball ramps up the cute, makes consumers the critical control point

I also never watched the West Wing, but am familiar with the Buterball hotline episode (see below) which has a special place in food safety pop culture, if there can be such a thing.

Yesterday, Butterball, LLC, the nation’s largest turkey producer, celebrated food safety month through a children’s coloring contest and a series of employee challenges at the company’s Mount Olive, N.C. facility. As part of the company’s commitment to providing healthy, wholesome products to consumers, these activities helped raise awareness of proper hand-washing, food preparation and illness prevention techniques.

(I thought food safety month was in Sept.?)

That’s nice, but rather than making consumers the critical control point, why doesn’t Butterball make its data on salmonella and campylobacter testing publicly available. Put some video cameras in the slaughter and processing facilities so people can see how turkeys are prepared for consumers.

Anita Colglazier, director of quality further processing at Butterball said,

“Butterball is a proud leader in food quality and safety and continually strives to strengthen its food safety programs to ensure its products are 100 percent safe for consumers.”

The facility hosted a coloring contest for the children of facility employees. While at work, associates participated in a hand washing challenge using “magic glowing bug lotion” and a black light enabling employees to see firsthand the areas that need extra scrubbing. Additionally, the facility posted food safety facts throughout the building to provide healthy tips for employees.

Coloring contests are cute; foodborne illness isn’t. Show me the data.

Labels on frozen foods can be confusing – the Stouffer’s Family Size Lasagna experience

We’ve been visiting with some of Amy’s family in Minnesota the past few days. Dinner for the gang last Sunday in Andover, north of Minneapolis, featured a couple of frozen Stouffer’s lasagnas.

Two lasagnas were required to feed the crew, and were cooked in the oven at the same time.

Although the recommended cooking procedure was followed, the result was still-frozen-in-the-middle lasagna. Two frozen lasagnas take longer than one. Amy says it’s physics.

Being the food safety nerd, I wondered aloud if the frozen lasagna was made with raw ingredients – which would need to be cooked to 160F — or cooked ingredients, meaning 135F would be fine. We rationalized, it’s lasagna, probably cooked ingredients, but 160F just in case. Aunt Jean brought out her oven-friendly thermometer and dinner was great.

The label on the Stouffer’s package had lots of cooking instructions and lots of mentions of food safety, but nothing about raw or cooked ingredients, and nothing about final cooking temperature. In really tiny print, a label proclaimed the product had been inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

That’s when I became worried.

I attempted to call the Stouffer’s consumer hotline , but it’s only open Monday to Friday, because people don’t eat frozen entrees on the weekend.

I called the hotline again on Monday and a nice lady told me that yes, two lasagnas take longer than one, and that she has instructions for proper cooking of two lasagnas at once – but nothing on the label or website. Did I mention the hotline wasn’t open Sunday?

The nice lady said the meat ingredients were all cooked, but that the lasagna should be cooked to 160F. “Yes, 160F is exactly what it should be cooked to.”

I’d argue 135F is sufficient, but regardless, there was nothing on the label about final cooking temperature, nothing about using a digital, tip-sensitive or some other type of accurate measuring device.

Pathogens in frozen lasagna have been linked to human illness on at least one previous occasion, earlier this year.

"The owner of Mona Lisa pasta says his kitchen is not to blame for six central Virginia dinner guests coming down with salmonella. While he says he sold the frozen lasagna, it was not his kitchen that was responsible for cooking it to code.

"The customer has written instructions as to how to prepare the food, to bake at a certain temperature for a certain amount of time, and that’s a food-safe temperature.”

I wonder how thorough those label instructions on safe cooking really were.

Sure, most people will not follow food safety labels, as we’ve found out with our own experiments, but it’s up to food manufacturers to provide complete and accurate food safety labels. And encourage thermometer use. How else are people going to be encouraged to stick it in?
That’s Sorenne with great-grandma Lorraine (below).