California high school girls microwave hamster, face charges

Two California girls aged 14 and 15 are in Juvenile Hall facing animal cruelty charges over allegedly microwaving a hamster.

They also briefly put him a freezer.

An investigating police officer said the girls have admitting microwaving Bugsy because they were bored.

"These girls showed no remorse."

The Press Democrat reports that the hamster, Bugsy, survived, but three of his feet were severely burned. Lake County Animal Control Officer Morgan Hermann said the legs later turned black and the hamster chewed them off, adding,

“Now (Bugsy) has one leg."

The incident occurred in December, but it was not reported to Animal Control and police until the students had been released for Spring break.

Unlike the pic (right) this was not a happy hamster.

Raw, frozen chicken thingies — do not cook in a microwave

Should microwaves be used to safely cook or simply reheat food?


An outbreak of salmonella in Minnesota last week was once again linked to frozen, raw chicken thingies — in this case breaded, pre-browned chicken cordon bleu and chicken Kiev produced by Milford Valley Farms.

This is the fifth such outbreak the Minnesota disease detectives have traced to such products in the past decade. Similar outbreaks have been reported in British Columbia and Australia.

Kirk Smith of the Minnesota Department of Health said one of the victims in the current outbreak prepared the frozen entree in a microwave, even though that method of preparation is not recommended on the package.

Because of past outbreaks, the U.S. Department of Agriculture wrote to food processors in 2006, and said,

"While consumers may be directed to cook the products to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit (F), if they are directed to use a cooking method that is not practical or not likely to achieve the necessary level of food safety (e.g., microwaving or cooking frozen product in a toaster oven), the cooking instructions may not be valid."

In response to the current outbreak, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a public health alert on March 29, 2008, and reminded consumers of the crucial importance of following package instructions for frozen, stuffed raw chicken products and general food safety guidelines when handling and preparing any raw meat or poultry.

"It is especially important that these products be cooked in a conventional oven. All poultry products should be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165° Fahrenheit as determined by a food thermometer. Using a food thermometer is the only way to know that food has reached a high enough temperature to destroy foodborne bacteria."

That same Saturday in March, Koch Foods, a Fairfield, Ohio, establishment, recalled approximately 1,420 pounds of frozen chicken breast products because they were packaged with the incorrect label. The frozen, pre-browned, raw products were labeled as "precooked" and therefore do not provide proper preparation instructions. These raw products may appear fully cooked.

Labels may be changed, but do people read labels? It appears that consumers could think that raw, pre-browned products are pre-cooked, when they are raw.

Live … From the Safe Food Caf?: Cooking the poop out of pot pies

ConAgra announced Nov. 14, 2007, that it was starting to manufacture Banquet pot pies again, and by early December they were available for purchase.

On Oct. 11, 2007, ConAgra announced it was recalling all of its frozen pot pies to fix some label discrepancies. This was two days after an outbreak of Salmonella was linked to Banquet pot pies and the company reassuringly told consumers that getting sick was their own fault and they should be more careful and cook pot pies thoroughly.

In the end, at least 272 people in 35 states had trouble simply cooking the pot pies and got sick with salmonella.

As I documented before, the instructions on the pot pies weren’t so great.

The old labels had statements about how easy it was to cook in the microwave. The new labels are much more explicit, saying the pot pies need to be cooked in at least a 1100 Watt microwave and that a meat thermometer should be used in several places to ensure that an endpoint temperature of 165 F has been reached.

I bought some of the new and improved pot pies and did the same cooking experiment, following what ConAgra called " redesigned easy-to-follow cooking instructions … to help eliminate any potential confusion regarding cooking times."

After four minutes in a 1150 Watt microwave, the interior of the pot pie registered at about 50F. After letting it sit for an additional three minutes — as per label instructions – the temperature varied anywhere from 75 – 190 F.

I decided to cook an additional two minutes.

After six minutes of cooking, and the previous three minutes of resting, the pot pie had tremendous variation in temperature: anywhere from 200F down to 100F.  165 F is required to kill Salmonella.
I wouldn’t want my kids popping these in the microwave after school.

ConAgra has never come clean on which various ingredients may have been the source of the Salmonella. Was it the poultry? How about the vegetables? The pie crust? ConAgra won’t say.

Further, were the new labels tested with consumers? There is a lack of research examining whether safe food handling labels perceived as effective translate into actual safe food handling behavior, including the use of proper thawing and cooking techniques, the use of measures to minimize cross-contamination, and the use of meat thermometers to confirm doneness.

If I was a multi-million dollar corporation like ConAgra headed to a dance with food safety lawyer Bill Marler cause my product made people barf, I’d want some evidence that pot pie fans where actually following the instructions on the labels. I would have tested the new labels with at least 100 teenagers — those afflicted with hormones and horniness — before introducing it to the mass market.
Maybe they did. But that’s up to ConAgra to prove.

And until they do, all products that claim to be safe in the microwave should contain nothing but fully cooked ingredients.

That’s the only way to get the poop out.

Cooking a frozen pot pie in a microwave

This is a ConAgra Banquet turkey pot pie Amy and I purchased the evening of Oct. 9, 2007 and kept in the freezer. It had the P-9 code on the side — the ones implicated in the Salmonella outbreak —  and on sale, 2-for-$1.

This is me in our kitchen on Monday Oct. 8, preparing Thanksgiving (Canadian) chicken for guests. Note the white microwave in the back left corner.

This is our GE Turntable microwave oven cooking the turkey pot pie at 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 10, 2007. I have no idea what the wattage is.

The front of the pot pie package includes statements such as:

Ready in 4 minutes; microwavable

The microwave cooking instructions on the back state:
For food safety and quality, follow these cooking directions:
Microwave Oven
(fine print: Ovens vary; cooking time may need to be adjusted.)
1. Place tray on microwave-safe plate; slit top crust.
I could not slit the top crust. It was frozen solid.
2. Microwave on High.
(Med. OR High Wattage Microwave 4 mins.
Low Wattage Microwave 6 mins).

This is the turkey pot pie after 4 minutes on high in the microwave. I was able to slit the crust. The temperature stabilized around 48 F. I must have a low wattage microwave.

The is the turkey pot pie after 6 minutes on high in the microwave. Near the surface, the temperature registers at 204 F (left). However, the temperature lowered as I moved the probe to the center. Temperature approximately 127 F (right).

The microwave cooking instructions also state:

3. Let Stand 3 minutes. Carefully remove as Product will be hot.

After 3 standing for 3 minutes the interior of the pot pie reaches 148 F. The recommended safe end-point temperature for poultry is 165 F.

This is the pot pie after 6 minutes in the microwave on high, standing for 3 minutes, followed by an additional 2 minutes in the microwave on high; 194 F.

I eat the pot pie.

This is completely anecdotal and in no way representative. However, as my research colleague Randy Phebus just posted on

"Why any food product containing raw ingredients of any kind (actually, in this case the chicken cubes were fully cooked, but the veggies and dough were not) would have microwaving as a primary preparation procedure, particularly when starting from a completely frozen state. Microwave heating of this type of product would no doubt be variable, and particularly when you look at all the different types of microwave ovens out there. Perhaps the message that we should be spreading is that microwaves should only be used to heat pre-cooked products. Then, we also need to address the almost universal ambiguity in prep instructions on food packages.  What do consumers really understand, or better what do they not understand, about these written label instructions?  One other important bit…are the label instructions always properly validated for their food safety effectiveness in the first place?"