I’ll take my hamburger at 160F, verified with a thermometer

Food safety has never been Mark Bittman’s strong point. But food porn triumphs, so who cares if a few people barf.

In the on-going saga of demonstrating that most so-called chefs are food safety morons, Bittman, a columnist with the N.Y. Times who apparently has a new book out, blogged about his experience ordering a burger in Toronto (that’s in Canada) the other night night, where he said to the staff,

“I begged the waitress for a really rare burger and she said, “When you ask for rare they make it medium rare,” and I said, "I know, that’s how it often is, and though I’d prefer it rare I don’t mind it medium rare, but if it’s medium I’m going to be unhappy," and she said, "Then you’ll be very happy." And it came out well done. And I wasn’t unhappy at all, I just didn’t eat much of it. I ate fries and roasted beets."

Bittman has also said in the past that "if you grind your own beef, you can make a mixture and taste it raw," adding that, "To reassure the queasy, there’s little difference, safety-wise, between raw beef and rare beef: salmonella is killed at 160 degrees, and rare beef is cooked to 125 degrees."

This is food safety idiocracy. Any food safety advice in Bittman’s book should be disregarded as fantasy.

N.Y. Times sucks at food safety: stick a piece of metal in a burger and lick it, rather than a thermometer, to tell if it’s done?

In the continuing saga of bad food safety advice in the N.Y. Times – and the elevation of food pornography over food safety – the Times today ran a piece about the perfect burger.

In interviews with dozens of so-called chefs around the U.S., not one mentioned the use of a tip-sensitive digital thermometer to ensure a final, safe temperature of 160F, or that color is an exceedingly lousy indicator of doneness or food safety (that’s Ben, right, exactly as shown, grillin’ up some Canada Day burgers)

The story does say, “testing for doneness is always a challenge for the home cook. Seamus Mullen, the chef and an owner of the Boqueria restaurants in the Flatiron district and SoHo, uses a wire cake tester. (Any thin, straight piece of metal will work as well.)

“We stick it in the middle through the side. If it’s barely warm to the lips, it’s rare. If it’s like bath water, it’s medium rare. The temperature will never lie. It takes the guesswork out of everything.”

Rather than putting E. coli O157:H7 on your precious testing lips, stick a thermometer in. You’re already sticking a piece of metal in so why not a thermometer?

Ben has just added to the Mark Bittman history of spewing out food safety nonsense that I have been tracking for at least two years.

The Times also published the whopper by Nina Planck, who at the height of the fall 2006 E. coli O157:H7 spinach outbreak, wrote in the Times that E. coli O157:H7 "is not found in the intestinal tracts of cattle raised on their natural diet of grass, hay and other fibrous forage. … It’s the infected  manure from these grain-fed cattle that contaminates the groundwater  and spreads the bacteria to produce, like spinach, growing on  neighboring farms."

This falsehood is routinely repeated, most recently in the entertaining but factually-challenged movie, Food Inc.

The natural reservoirs for E. coli O157:H7 and other verotoxigenic E. coli is the intestines of all ruminants, including cattle — grass or grain-fed — sheep, goats, deer and the like. The final report of the fall 2006 spinach outbreak identifies nearby grass-fed beef cattle as the likely source of the E. coli O157:H7 that sickened 200 and killed 4.

In my own unique version of how-to-win-friends-and-influence-people, I called Bittman and celebrity food porn doofus Jamie Oliver idiots for their advice on how to cook chicken and their ability to cross-contaminate an entire kitchen within seconds.

N.Y. Times, you are furthering your descent to irrelevancy.

Bittman article updated: now includes safety information

Maybe it was barfblog influenced, maybe not. My previous post on Mark Bittman’s garlic and other stuff in oil was a letter to the editor I submitted to the New York Times on Friday night. As the Times likes to have exclusive first printing right I held off on posting the letter until last night (since I hadn’t heard whether it was going to be printed).

This morning, esteemed New York Times watch-dog blogger NYTpicker, noted that the botulism-promoting Bittman article has been updated to include some safety tips:

Correction: July 1, 2009
A recipe on Page 4 today with the Minimalist column, about infused oils, corrects two errors that appeared in the recipe when it was published at
nytimes.com on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The online recipe misstated the amount of time the oil should cook after it bubbles and the length of time it is safe to use after being refrigerated. The oil should be cooked five minutes, not “a minute or two,” and it should be kept in the refrigerator no more than a week, not “a month or so.” The corrected version can also be found at nytimes.com/dining.

New York Times’ Bitman promotes unsafe practice

In the June 26 Minimalist column and accompanying video about herb and garlic flavored oils barfblog favorite Mark Bittman suggests a frugal trick to add flavor to a meal. And possibly a frugal method to create a serious foodborne toxin.

The pathogen of concern, Clostridium botulinum, could exist as spores on the suggested ingredients. Heating the foods may activate the spores and placing the flavor-making components into certain oils can create the perfect environment (oxygen-free and low acid) for cell growth and botulinum toxin formation. Mr. Bittman’s suggestions of a little of this and a little of that into oil could create a nasty situation.

Information missing from the print article, but included in the video, is that he keeps his oil in the refrigerator. Keeping oil mixtures below 41F is a critical step and will not allow the botulism spores to form cells. Holding the oil mixture at room temperature allows for cell formation and growth.  In 1999, three Floridians were admitted to hospital with nausea, blurred vision and eventual paralysis after eating a home-bottled infused oil concoction similar to what Mr. Bittman suggests. The commercially available (and more expensive) flavored oils that Bitman scoffs at include U.S. Food and Drug Administration-mandated microbial inhibitors or acidifying agents.

Flavored oils made right are scrumptious, botulism is not.