Cooking Pizza to 165F

As we all recover from the flu, our appetites are only mediocre. In the spirit of things, I cooked an Archer Farms spinach and goat cheese pizza for dinner tonight. I added olives because that’s one of the few things Sorenne currently loves. When looking at the cooking time and temp I noticed detailed directions that seem straight from this blog:

"For food safety, cook to an internal temperature of 165F as measured with a food thermometer.

Ovens vary: adjust baking time accordingly. Refrigerate or discard leftovers immediately."

This prompted me to play 100 questions with Doug, which he enjoys.

Me: "There’s no meat on this pizza. Is 165 the temperature for killing salmonella?" 

Doug: "Yes."

Me: "How do I put a thermometer in a pizza?"

Doug: "Do you think mere mortals know where to put it? Why don’t you try it?"

So I did (exactly as pictured). After cooking the pizza at 400F for about 18 minutes, I took it out and tried to eye the thickest part. Then I tried to put the thermometer in somewhat sideways being careful not to poke through the other side. To take the picture, I had to prop the thermometer on my spatula. The process made a big gash in my pizza toppings and the cheese stuck like glue on the thermometer, but it was easy to see the pizza was well above 165F.

The pizza was tasty but the outside crust overly crunchy and the inner crust still a bit soggy. Sorenne picked off the olives and ate them all, and I enjoyed a Boulevard Nutrcracker Seasonal Ale with mine. 

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).

Bad frozen dessert — and labels — on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was a decidedly low-key affair this year. As the parents of a soon-to-be 1-year-old, we’re just tired. We’ve been to a baby shower, hosted a birthday party with too much good scotch (and turkey) and are driving to Missouri on Saturday, so we were all happy to hang out in our PJs.

Our friend Angelique came over for some Champagne, but the scallops and beef I made to top the pasta was far too salty. For dessert, it was the frozen kind from Target.

Amy got some frozen Tiramisu. And I had no idea what that was. But the label and handling directions were horrible. Thaw 6 hours before serving? And cut into 1-inch cubes and divide into 4 wine glasses, and then thread cubes and berries onto skewers?

Amy tried to zap it in the microwave. Didn’t work out so well.

Best of Thanksgiving from blue eyes.


Direct video observation of adults and tweens cooking raw frozen chicken thingies

One of the first things I did after officially joining Kansas State University in 2006 was try and figure out some novel research. Chapman flew in from Guelph, we had a beer with Phebus at a local bar and sketched out a proposal on the back of a napkin, to observe people cooking chicken.

Sarah Wilson, my composed colleague from the Guelph days, drafted the proposal and it got funded by the American Meat Institute.

The observational research was conducted in 2007 and the results were published this week by the British Food Journal.

Chapman created a novel video capture system to observe the food preparation practices of 41 consumers and the press summary is below, as is the abstract.
A Kansas State University study has shown that when preparing frozen foods, adolescents are less likely than adults to wash their hands and are more susceptible to cross-contaminating raw foods while cooking.

"While half of the adults we observed washed their hands after touching raw chicken, none of the adolescents did," said Casey Jacob, a food safety research assistant at K-State. "The non-existent hand washing rate, combined with certain age-specific behaviors like hair flipping and scratching in a variety of areas, could lead directly to instances of cross-contamination compared to the adults."

Food safety isn’t simple, and instructions for safe handling of frozen chicken entrees or strips are rarely followed by consumers despite their best intentions, said Doug Powell, K-State associate professor of food safety who led the study.

As the number and type of convenience meal solutions increases — check out the frozen food section of a local supermarket — the researchers found a need to understand how both adults and adolescents are preparing these products and what can be done to enhance the safety of frozen foods.

In 2007, K-State researchers developed a novel video capture system to observe the food preparation practices of 41 consumers – 21 primary meal preparers and 20 adolescents – in a mock domestic kitchen using frozen, uncooked, commercially available breaded chicken products. The researchers wanted to determine actual food handling behavior of these two groups in relation to safe food handling practices and instructions provided on product labels. Self-report surveys were used to determine whether differences exist between consumers’ reported food handling practices and observed behavior.

The research appeared in the November 2009 issue of the British Food Journal. In addition to Jacob and Powell, the authors were: Sarah DeDonder, K-State doctoral student in pathobiology; Brae Surgeoner, Powell’s former graduate student; Benjamin Chapman, an assistant professor at North Carolina State University and Powell’s former graduate student; and Randall Phebus, K-State professor of animal science and industry.

Beyond the discrepancy between adult and adolescent food safety practices, the researchers also found that even when provided with instructions, food preparers don’t follow them. They may not have even seen them or they assume they know what to do.

"Our results suggest that while labels might contain correct risk-reduction steps, food manufacturers have to make that information as compelling as possible or it will be ignored,” Chapman said.

They also found that observational research using discreet video recording is far more accurate than self-reported surveys. For example, while almost all of the primary meal preparers reported washing hands after every instance in which they touched raw poultry, only half were observed washing hands correctly after handling chicken products in the study.

Powell said that future work will examine the effectiveness of different food safety labels, messages and delivery mechanisms on consumer behavior in their home kitchens.

Self-reported and observed behavior of primary meal preparers and adolescents during preparation of frozen, uncooked, breaded chicken products
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;jsessionid=6146E6AFABCC349C376B7E55A3866D4A?contentType=Article&contentId=1811820
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.
Originality/value – This paper finds areas that have not been studied in previous observational research and is an excellent addition to existing literature.

Microwaving listeria out of potatoes

Minnesota-based food maker Northern Star is recalling several different refrigerated potato products after some samples were found to have Listeria monocytogenes.

According to WCCO-TV, a former employee had already reported concerns about listeria on plant equipment to the FDA.

I’m not sure what his role was in the company, but he told the news crew,

“…I like to protect the people who eat this product. I’ve seen mice all over the place. Cockroaches, black mold, listeria: I mean you name it, you can find it."

Sounds pretty gross, but—if necessary—most of the poop can be cooked out of food.

A report of the recall by noted,

“Officials say properly cooking the food kills Listeria bacteria, but the Minnesota Department of Agriculture says often times people overlook the cooking instructions and simply heat these products in the microwave.”

It only takes a couple minutes to kill listeria if you can get the food up to 158F. A microwave can do this quickly, but unevenly. The cold spots that don’t get up to the right temp can still have listeria bacteria living in them.

Therefore, many manufacturers—such as Northern Star—don’t provide that option in the cooking instructions.

However, pretending people don’t use the microwave is not a realistic way to minimize the risk of someone getting sick.

Some have suggested acknowledging consumer use of microwave ovens by pasting DO NOT MICROWAVE on packages of foods that are likely to make people sick if they’re not cooked properly (like raw chicken thingies).

In the case of refrigerated hashbrowns, it’s probably reasonable to provide instructions for the microwave and include a little note on the dangers of uneven cooking.

This would give consumers the opportunity to make an informed decision on how they’ll cook their potatoes. Particularly when there’s poop in them.

So far, no illnesses have been reported in connection with this recall. Providing more information to consumers could help ensure that’s the case.


Aunt Bessie’s meatballs – incomplete instructions

ConAgra isn’t the only firm having frozen thingy problems.

The U.K.’s Food Standards Agency is warning consumers that all batches of ‘Aunt Bessie’s eight beef meatballs in a rich onion gravy’ sold exclusively in Iceland stores have incomplete cooking instructions.

The current cooking instructions may not provide sufficient heat treatment to ensure thorough cooking, and could therefore possibly lead to food poisoning, although the risk is low.

As a precautionary measure, Iceland has taken all remaining stocks of product off its shelf. It is also displaying point-of-sale notices in its stores advising customers of what actions they can take if they have already bought this product.

Cooking the poop out of pot pies

My wife Amy says she ate a lot of pot pies growing up in Montana and "they were always frozen in the middle."

Kids come home from school, are told to fend for themselves, grab something from the freezer, pop it into the microwave, and sometimes, instant gratification.

People have been eating frozen pot pies for a long time and haven’t gotten sick.

But somehow, a whole pile of poop  — that’s where salmonella comes from — got into the batch of ConAgra Banquet turkey and chicken pot pies with the code P9 on the side panel.

It was either a failure to cook the meat, or it was in the potatoes or carrots or flour. Poop is everywhere. It should not be eaten; unless it’s cooked.

Until last night, when ConAgra finally recalled all pot pies produced at its Missouri plant, the company insisted it was up to consumers to cook that poop.

But are consumers really the ones who are supposed to be responsible here?

Stephanie Childs, a spokesperson for ConAgra, says that as long as consumers follow the instructions on the package, Banquet brand frozen pot pies are safe to eat.

Amy questions that. So do the 152 people across the U.S. confirmed with Salmonella linked to the ConAgra pot pies. With that many sick people, of which 20 required hospitalization, there were probably thousands of people barfing or planted on the porcelain throne because they could not figure out how to follow the simple instructions to make the poop safe.

So I gave it a try.

The details are available at:

The short version is, the cooking instructions, for me, in one trial, failed to yield a safe internal temperature of 165F; the pie only got to 148F. That’s not safe. If salmonella was there, it would make me poop.

ConAgra was somehow allowed to blame consumers for several days — if not months — for the poop in their pot pies.

Now ConAgra says it is going to rewrite its cooking instructions on its pot pie packaging — something that should have done before 152 people started barfing.

But why just pot pies? There is a cacophony of frozen, raw or cooked products available in the supermarket freezer section, and there have been several outbreaks of foodborne illness related to those products containing raw ingredients.

In 2006 the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued guidelines requiring companies to clearly label uncooked products and include a statement such as "must be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F as measured by use of a thermometer" in a prominent spot on the package.

But it’s still confusing. Raw, frozen, chicken strips, for instance, are sold side-by-side with fully cooked, frozen chicken strips. Kids looking for an after-school snack may not read the label instructions before popping something in the microwave. And telling consumers to cook out the poop may not be the best marketing strategy.

Frozen products like nuggets, strips and pot pies should only contain fully cooked ingredients.

Douglas Powell is scientific director of the International Food Safety Network at Kansas State University.