Talking turkey: Provide evidence-based information and let folks make their own risk decisions

I still listen to a lot of punk rock and I don’t really like being told what to do. I’m not sure many folks do. The approach I use is to provide the best available evidence culled from the literature to help eaters calculate the risks and benefits of food choices. Present the info in a compelling way and then step back to let the individual do their thing.

Hopefully the choice results in the least amount of barf. Eating has risks, whether it’s raw oysters, sprouts, or Thanksgiving dinner. USA Today’s Elizabeth Weise deconstructs the risks associated with cooking turkey and all the fixin’s:

Step away from the sink, and no one will get hurt.

You don’t need to wash your turkey before you roast it, and doing so can be dangerous. A British study found that washing poultry in the sink can spray bacteria up to 3 feet away. And with one in 50 turkeys estimated to be contaminated with salmonella, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food-safety inspectors, you don’t want a mist of turkey juice on your relish platter.

Given this contamination rate, the chef’s job is to keep the raw turkey juices away from anything that isn’t going to be cooked to 165 degrees, the temperature required to kill disease-causing bugs (the ones of interest in poultry -ben). Unfortunately, too many people start their feast preparations by plopping their turkey in the sink and giving it a good wash. There’s no need to do that. It’s a holdover from long ago when poultry routinely arrived with bits of blood and pinfeathers still attached. Cooks were instructed to wash the carcass well and use tweezers to remove any feathers that didn’t get plucked. With today’s modern processing, none of that is necessary. You just want to get the turkey into its pan and into the oven with as little dripping and splashing as possible.

If it’s a lack of refrigerator space that’s impeding your thawing, Doug Powell, a food-safety scientist at Kansas State University, notes that in any Northern climate, you can simply put the turkey outside in the garage in a closed cooler to keep out pets and vermin. His department wrote a paper on the topic and found that as long as the temperature is below 40 to 45 degrees it’s perfectly safe.

Then there’s the big question of whether it’s safe to lick the beaters when you’re making dessert. According to the Food and Drug Administration, approximately one in 20,000 eggs is contaminated with Salmonella enteritidis, the most common type of illness-causing salmonella. Benjamin Chapman, a(n assistant) professor of food safety at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, says he’s content to “let others make their own risk decisions.”
But for himself and his family, the answer is no (at least when I’m around and influence the decision – ben).

Check out these videos for risk-reduction steps:
Thawing the Turkey
Turkey Preparation and Preventing Cross-Contamination
How to tell when the turkey is safe to eat
Handling the Leftovers

1 dead, 10 sick from E. coli at Missouri Thanksgiving meal

Details are trickling out about the death of Jasper County, Missouri, resident from E. coli last week.

The Joplin Globe reports this morning that a food or a beverage served at a Thanksgiving dinner is the apparent source of an E. coli outbreak that killed a 51-year-old Carthage woman and sickened several other people.

Tony Moehr, director of the Jasper County Health Department, said,

“We have two confirmed cases of E. coli O157:H7 in Jasper County. One of the cases resulted in a death.”

Moehr said a third confirmed case of the bacterial infection has been reported in Dade County and involves someone who attended the Thanksgiving dinner.

“It appears the cases are related to a family gathering for Thanksgiving on Nov. 27,” he said. “We have identified seven or eight additional illnesses related to that gathering, but we don’t have the test results back for them. These cases occurred around the same period of time but were not as severe.”

It is believed that 11 of the 24 people who attended the event became ill.

The department, Moehr said, did not issue a press release about the E. coli death because the incident was associated with a family gathering and did not pose a threat to the public.

Saving time and stress with cooking co-ops, but watch the food safety

A cooking co-op, or dinner swap, is, according to Laurie Woolever writing in the New York Times, an agreement by two or more individuals or households to provide prepared meals for each other, according to a schedule. The goal is to reduce the time spent in the kitchen while increasing the quality and variety of the food eaten.

Once a week, you cook a dish (chicken enchiladas, for instance), making enough to provide at least one serving for each adult member of the co-op. …

After setting aside a pan of enchiladas for your household, you divide and package the rest, usually in reusable containers, and label them with reheating or assembly instructions. Members then gather and swap dishes, each walking away with a variety of meals for the coming week’s dinners and, often, leftovers for extra meals and lunches.

There are several issues, like co-op members consistently making crappy meals, and the food safety — who knows what goes on in those other kitchens. But food is about sharing and celebrating, so I’m all for it, just don’t make people barf.