If you grill, don’t chill on meat thermometer use

The STEC beef safety #Grill160toKill tailgate project hits Virginia Tech:

Grilling burgers in your backyard or at a late afternoon tailgate doesn’t seem like a scenario set for danger, but your burger can bite back if bacteria is allowed to remain in the meat, Virginia Tech researchers say.

Daniel Gallagher, an associate professor in the Via Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is the principal investigator on a collaborative project to track thermometer use in cooking hamburger meat. Renee Boyer, associate professor of food science and technology, and Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is collaborating on the project, a joint effort with North Carolina State University, Kansas State University, University of Nebraska, and Texas A&M.Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 10.02.37 PM

Boyer and her lab have been distributing kits at Virginia Tech football tailgates that contain a digital read out thermometer, an apron, and a beverage koozy with temperature guidelines. The goal is to prompt people to monitor the temperature of their ground beef.

The team will be handing out supplies around campus parking lots again at a future football game. They will also be checking in with people who have already received kits to see if they are using proper cooking techniques.

The group has launched a social media campaign on Instagram and Twitter. Users who post photos with the thermometer reading 160 degrees with meat using the hashtag #Grill160toKill will be entered to win an iPad.

“We are trying to create an awareness of the importance of grilling meats to 160 degrees to avoid E.coli illnesses by using a thermometer and seeing if we can shift the public’s attitude about monitoring cooking temperatures,” said Boyer.

The bacteria — Shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli, or STEC — are associated with at least 265,000 illnesses per year.

Cooking meat to 160 degrees kills E. coli bacteria.

“You go to the doctor to monitor your sodium and cholesterol; using a thermometer to cook meat is the same principle,” said Lily Yang, a doctoral student from San Francisco. “It’s a preventative measure.”

Hamburger, as opposed to steak which has only the surface area exposed, can potentially have contaminants distributed throughout the patty because the meat is ground and mixed.

“As a consumer you are the last line of defense against getting sick from consuming E. coli bacteria,” said John di Stefano, a master’s student from Midlothian, Virginia. “Using a thermometer to monitor your cooking temperature is the best way to do that.”

The outreach effort is funded by a $25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Follow the poop – not the bullshit

The award for the most silly statements in one media report that I’ve seen today – and I see a lot in one day – goes to North Carolina’s Asheville Citizen-Times.

In the context of the on-going Salmonella outbreak, with 971 confirmed illnesses and at least 189 hospitalizations, Charlie Jackson, director of the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, says people should not be too concerned, adding,

“In the whole scheme of things, we have the safest food in the world. There is more danger in driving to the market than eating a tomato that is going to make you sick.”

How compassionate. If someone in industry or government said that they would be rightly skewered.

Jackson also said local food is inherently safer than food shipped in from far away, adding,

“The big and astounding problem is that they don’t know where it (the salmonella) came from. That doesn’t occur when you buy the product right from the farmer who grew it.”

Wrong. The big problem is poop on food, wherever it came from, along with bullshit statements from hucksters.

Renay Knapp, a family consumer science agent with the N.C. Cooperative Extension in Henderson County, says

“Probably the most important thing is to keep hot food hot and cold foods cold. That’s where it all starts.”

Nope. It starts on the farm and keeping poop away from the food.

And these are pictures, for no particular reason, of Wellington, New Zealand, where Amy and I are currently camped out, and yesterday’s lunch. We don’t get mussels like that in Kansas.

Safe Food Cafe – Tailgating Tips

This video comes from November when the iFSN checked out the food practices performed at a K-State tailgate. Our team didn’t win, but it was great to discuss food safety topics with serious grillers and sometimes, serious drinkers.

Best wishes to the University of Kansas — not Kansas State — which is playing in the Orange Bowl tonight in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, against Virginia Tech. It was a magical season for the Kansas Jayhawks until they met that other Big 12 powerhouse, Missouri.

And for you crazy, KU kids frolicking in the Florida sun, use a digital, tip-sensitive thermometer when sticking it in. Always.

It’s delicious… It’s tailgating!

In college football, the Kansas State Wildcats opened at home tonight in Manhattan with a somewhat boring 34-14 victory over San Jose State. The Cats are full of surprises, and not always good ones. When you think they have the other team in check, they give up touchdowns, like in the 4th quarter tonight.

The same is true of K-State tailgating. We tailgated tonight in Cat Town with some of Doug’s lab members. First we ate brauts at the Veterinary Medicine tent, and then we found burgers at Animal Science. Angela asked me where the meat thermometers were, and I replied, “I’m sure they’re in that box with their cooking equipment.” We didn’t see one, so I proposed that maybe they had a standardized cooking procedure with pre-frozen patties and a clear cooking time charted out. Doug said that when they saw him arrive, the cooks called out, “Don’t worry. They’re done!” (We found out later that they use pre-cooked burgers; so indeed, they were done.)

We then went to a private tailgate party where the pregnant hostess, when introduced to Doug the Food Safety Professor, said, “We always try to keep things really safe here!” I didn’t look for thermometers there. By then my stomach was too full to even think about a cookie.

We’ve been thinking about tailgate publicity and reality research possibilities, like meat thermometers with Willie the Wildcat on them and final cooking temperature charts on stickers. Or tonight I thought it would be cool to have backpack coolers with cooking temps printed on them. We like slogans like, “Get‘r done,” and “Stick it in.” I also liked Andrew’s blogpost with the “Heat ‘em up, eat ‘em up” battle cry. But since we have a blog with, hopefully, a few readers, I thought I would put the question out to you. What would compel you to practice safe food handling at a tailgate? There are so many distractions, limited facilities, no running water in the parking lot, and plenty of people coming by and dipping into food unexpectedly. It’s delicious, and not just from the microorganisms’ point of view.  Please share your comments, questions, and ideas on tailgating safely.

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[pictured is a KSU branding iron (not a thermometer) with this description: "Your sizzling hot Original Barbeque Brand Tailgate Tool can sear the pride of the K-State WIld Cats into most any food item. It’s for more than just meat! Buns, tortillas, potatoes, pie crusts, let your pride run wild!"]