Maybe cook from frozen, using a thermometer to verify safety? Campylobacter exploits chicken juice to flourish

A study from the Institute of Food Research has shown that Campylobacter’s persistence in food processing sites and the kitchen is boosted by ‘chicken juice.’

raw-chicken-bacteria-537x357Organic matter exuding from chicken carcasses, “chicken juice”, provides these bacteria with the perfect environment to persist in the food chain. This emphasises the importance of cleaning surfaces in food preparation, and may lead to more effective ways of cleaning that can reduce the incidence of Campylobacter.

The study was led by Helen Brown, a PhD student supervised by Dr Arnoud van Vliet at IFR, which is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. Helen’s PhD studentship is co-funded by an industrial partner, Campden BRI.

The researchers collected the liquids produced from defrosting chickens, and found that this helped Campylobacter attach to surfaces and subsequently form biofilms. Biofilms are specialised structures some bacteria form on surfaces that protect them from threats from the environment.

“We have discovered that this increase in biofilm formation was due to chicken juice coating the surfaces we used with a protein-rich film,” said Helen Brown. “This film then makes it much easier for the Campylobacter bacteria to attach to the surface, and it provides them with an additional rich food source.”

Campylobacter aren’t particularly hardy bacteria, so one area of research has been to understand exactly how they manage to survive outside of their usual habitat, the intestinal tract of poultry. They are sensitive to oxygen, but during biofilm formation the bacteria protect themselves with a layer of slime. This also makes them more resistant to antimicrobials and disinfection treatments

Understanding this and how Campylobacter persists in the food production process will help efforts to reduce the high percentage of chickens that reach consumers contaminated with the bacteria. Although thorough cooking kills off the bacteria, around 500,000 people suffer from Campylobacter food poisoning each year in the UK. Reducing this number, and the amount of infected chicken on supermarket shelves, is now the number one priority of the Food Standards Agency.

“This study highlights the importance of thorough cleaning of food preparation surfaces to limit the potential of bacteria to form biofilms,” said Helen.

 Chicken juice enhances surface attachment and biofilm formation of Campylobacter jejuni


Appl. Environ. Microbiol. November 2014 vol. 80 no. 22 7053-7060

Helen L. Brown, Mark Reuter, Louise J. Salt, Kathryn L. Cross, Roy P. Betts and Arnoud H. M. van Vliet; M. W. Griffiths, Editor


The bacterial pathogen Campylobacter jejuni is primarily transmitted via the consumption of contaminated foodstuffs, especially poultry meat. In food processing environments, C. jejuni is required to survive a multitude of stresses and requires the use of specific survival mechanisms, such as biofilms. An initial step in biofilm formation is bacterial attachment to a surface. Here, we investigated the effects of a chicken meat exudate (chicken juice) on C. jejuni surface attachment and biofilm formation. Supplementation of brucella broth with ≥5% chicken juice resulted in increased biofilm formation on glass, polystyrene, and stainless steel surfaces with four C. jejuni isolates and one C. coli isolate in both microaerobic and aerobic conditions. When incubated with chicken juice, C. jejuni was both able to grow and form biofilms in static cultures in aerobic conditions. Electron microscopy showed that C. jejuni cells were associated with chicken juice particulates attached to the abiotic surface rather than the surface itself. This suggests that chicken juice contributes to C. jejuni biofilm formation by covering and conditioning the abiotic surface and is a source of nutrients. Chicken juice was able to complement the reduction in biofilm formation of an aflagellated mutant of C. jejuni, indicating that chicken juice may support food chain transmission of isolates with lowered motility. We provide here a useful model for studying the interaction of C. jejuni biofilms in food chain-relevant conditions and also show a possible mechanism for C. jejuni cell attachment and biofilm initiation on abiotic surfaces within the food chain. 

Real time turkey; bugs everywhere: the cross-contamination nightmare of prepping a turkey

Five days after purchasing a 15-pound frozen turkey for $0.68/pound, it’s time to prep the bird for our 4 p.m ish Thanksgiving dinner in Manhattan (Kansas, so Central time)..

Using a combination of countertop and the front porch to thaw the bird in a covered roasting pan, the frozen turkey has a surface temperature of 47F and an interior temperature of 39F (I’ve been letting it sit on the counter to warm up in preparation for cooking).

There was at least an inch of melted turkey juice and water at the bottom of the roasting pan. Whoever said place a frozen bird on a plate in the refrigerator to thaw has never done it. There would be salmonella-and-campylobacter-laden liquid everywhere, most likely on the fresh produce in the crisper drawer.

As I picked up the bird to begin removing the packing, there was a splash, and a few tablespoons of liquid splattered on the floor. Oops. Then there was a package of gravy mix in the cavity, covered in all sorts of bacteria. Got that into its own container, and the neck into the stock pot. Got me and the surrounding area cleaned up.

The bird is continuing to warm up at room temperature for another hour and then into the oven. The chestnut stuffing has to cool a bit.

Next, more cross contamination follies as the bird gets stuffed.


Party on my porch: how I thawed my turkey

Much has been written about how to properly defrost a turkey for the Thanksgiving food orgy. Sure, some buy fresh birds – I did a couple of times in the 1990s and decided it wasn’t worth it — or cook directly from frozen (which actually works, thanks, Pete), but U.S. government advice is to defrost the turkey, in the fridge, in cold water, or in the microwave.

I don’t like any of those options.

I purchased a 15-pound a Jennie-O frozen turkey on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, at 6 p.m. from Dillons in Manhattan (that’s in Kansas). At $0.68 a pound, it was a protein centerpiece bargain.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a 15-pound bird should take 36-48 hours to defrost in the refrigerator, or 6-8 hours in cold water in the sink. The later is a potential cross-contamination nightmare so no water is going near my bird. And I don’t have room in the fridge.

Instead I left the bird in its plastic wrapper and put it directly into the roasting pan, with a lid. It was so frozen and so solid, I left the bird at room temperature – about 66 F – overnight for 13 hours. It was still frozen in the morning.

On Nov. 21, at 8 p.m., I placed the bird in the covered roasting pan on front porch overnight where the ambient temp varied from 45F – 30F. On Nov. 22 at 8 a.m., 36 hours after purchasing the frozen bird, with an ambient temp 38F, the surface of the bird was 35F and the interior 29 F.

This is not for food service, this is for the home cook. And while I was initially concerned about cats and ‘coons, neither had penetrated the lid on the roasting pan.

On Nov. 23 at 8 a.m., the surface of the bird was 35 F and the interior, 29 F.

Same thing this morning, Nov. 24, 2010, at 8 a.m. I’ll probably leave it on the porch another night, and then bring the bird inside first thing Thursday morning so it starts to warm up and the center actually thaws.

Depending on where you live, a garage can work equally well for a long, slow thaw.

Pete Snyder at the Hospitality Institute of Technology and Management in St. Paul, Minnesota, has a summary available demonstrating the safety of thawing poultry at room temperature at

My group wrote a review note on the topic a few years ago, and it is included in its entirety at

And however the bird is thawed (or not) verify the temperature using a tip-sensitive digital thermometer and cool the leftovers within two hours.

Bon Appetit and simplistic food safety

Bon Appetit is a food porn magazine meant to titillate (it’s even in it’s name) and stimulate rather than inform, like most of what passes for food journalism.

This month, the so-called Conscious Cook has a brief piece, 5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Hate On Microwaves.

Hate is a strong word. I like my microwave, especially for reheating, not cooking.

The author maintains that microwave defrosting reduces the risk of foodborne illness and that “defrosting frozen food by using hot water or leaving it in the sink can increase bad bacteria. To defrost fast, microwave food on low heat, then cook immediately. Stir contents halfway through heating for even warming.”

I cook a whole chicken about once a week. It’s inexpensive, and provides leftovers and stock for subsequent meals. If I’m defrosting a whole chicken in a microwave, I’m not going to stir it “halfway through heating for even warming.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Health Canada recommend thawing poultry by sealing in a waterproof bag and immersing in cold water. These same groups also used to recommend washing chicken bits, but decided the microbiological splash fest created by running water over raw poultry was a bad idea. To me, immersing in cold water and changing that water every 30 minutes is an additional route to microbial cross-contamination. The Aussies and the Brits agree, and do not recommend water immersion.

Depending on my planning, I use a combination of the counter and the refrigerator for thawing the bird. American and Canadian science-types say this is awful, and I’ll make everyone barf. The Aussies and Brits say counter-top thawing is fine, as long as it’s monitored – a week may be too long.

We have previously reviewed various thawing techniques and government recommendations. Whatever technique is used, be the bug, thinking in terms of cross contamination and growth, and use a damn thermometer to ensure the food has reached a safe internal temperature. Color is a lousy indicator and piping hot is just weird (so is Canada’s Mrs. Cookwell).

You’ve got to fight for your right to relevant and reliable food safety information

Chapman asks me the other day, “How do we fight the dogma?”

Is that like fight the power? Fight the man? Fight for your right to party?

What he was talking about was food safety dogma, the kind where seemingly good people give bad food safety advice. Like the Brits and their piping hot turkey.

But this was directed at home. Why do good people reference bad advice, such as the cumbersomely named U.S. Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education, and their Holiday food safety success kit, which says people should always wash their hands for 20 seconds with warm water and never defrost turkey on the counter (with exclamation marks, so readers know they are seriously serious).

When washing hands, water temperature doesn’t matter, 10 seconds is sufficient
. Turkey can be thawed on the counter, don’t leave it there forever and don’t let the cat nibble on it.

The dogma part is, where are the references? How do groups like the horribly named Partnership come up with food safety advice? Is it some magical mystery tour or is there some reference to something credible? Who knows. It’s not publicly available.

So why anyone would reference the awkward Partnership as a credible source is bizarrely baffling.


Turkey tips: do not thaw in the pool, and cook to 165F

A food safety friend wrote me over Thanksgiving to say that his wife was visiting family in Florida, and had gotten into an argument with mom over how best to thaw the Thanksgiving bird.

“Her mother decided that there was no room in the fridge, so she did the next best thing, throwing the turkey into the swimming pool to thaw. It wasn’t heated, so the water was in the low 60s. The good news is that we convinced mom to rescue the bird from the pool. The bad news — we did not get a picture of the floating turkey.”

Then there’s my friend Steve, who is a moustache aficionado. The more we say he looks like an extra in Super Troopers, the more he defends the facial hair.

Steve works for the Ontario government arranging hockey times for about a dozen different teams and reading FSnet. He also does something with fish.

Steve noticed that a CSPI press release said to cook poultry to 180F, when the correct temperature is 165F. CSPI also parrots government by saying never thaw on a counter. Show us the data.

Here’s Steve in action with some visiting Russian team. As Chapman correctly notes, this photo perfectly exhibits Naylor:

• opposition has puck;
• puck is in Naylor’s defensive zone;
• Naylor has his head down, breaking to the other blueline ready to get a pass; and,
• Naylor is playing defense.

Yes Virginia, you can thaw turkey on the counter

I’ve gotten more done around the house in the past two weeks than I have in the past two years. Must be the nesting hormones. Amy figures she’s had enough. Baby’s due in a few days, but Amy would rather have it out now.  My youngest daughter, Courtlynn, arrives on Thanksgiving for five days, and we hope the baby arrives then as well.

But, there’s still work to be done, and every year, it’s the same issue. We say it’s OK for people to do what they are already doing – thawing turkey on the counter – and people freak out. After all, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and their extension types insist it is never OK to thaw turkey at room temperature.

We have lots of evidence and have written about it in peer-reviewed journals. But why doesn’t USDA or FDA, with all their resources, tell people why it’s not OK to thaw poultry at room temperature instead of repeating — as my friend Marty once quipped — like a fascist calling out country line dancing instructions, that it is never OK to thaw at room temperature?

Show us the data.

Pete Snyder at the Hospitality Institute of Technology and Management in St. Paul, Minnesota, has a summary available demonstrating the safety of thawing poultry at room temperature at

My group wrote a review note on the topic a few years ago, and it is included in its entirety at

However you thaw your turkey, use a digital, tip-sensitive thermometer to ensure it has reached an internal temperature of 165F. The laws of physics are apparently different north of the 49th parallel and poultry is required to reach 180F. No one knows why the Canadian government has different advice. And they’re not telling anyone.

Canadian Thanksgiving dinner tonight – hopefully I won’t make anyone barf

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday – a celebration of the harvest with food, friends and family.

Canadian Thanksgiving is today, so in an effort to enhance Canadian Studies, or at least the ability of Kansans to be able to geographically identify Canada as that place up north, Amy and I host an annual dinner, for ex-pats and, this year, our students.

They never turn down food. We remember what it’s like to be students.

But the supermarket I frequent didn’t have whole turkeys – American Thanksgiving isn’t until the end of November. There was, however, a fresh, huge turkey breast, reduced for quick sale (which meant I couldn’t thaw my turkey on the kitchen counter). So I bought two, experimented, and will be using the trusty meat thermometer.

We’re going to go eat, when the other 10 people arrive.

A video will be up in a few days.

Are you food safety savvy?

That’s what dietician and TV personality Leslie Beck asked yesterday in the Toronto Globe and Mail as she posed a pre-Canadian-Thanksgiving food safety quiz.

Leslie (right) didn’t do so good — and she’s the alleged teacher with the answer book.

That’s because she went to the Coles Notes version — the Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education – for her answers instead of doing some digging.

“While food processing has been blamed for many of these (foodborne) outbreaks, the fact remains that the majority of food-safety problems occur at home. It is estimated that Canada has as many as 13 million cases of food poisoning every year, most of which could be prevented by safer handling of food at home.”

With at least 20 people dead from listeria in cold cuts in Canada, such a statement is not only factually inaccurate, it is condescendingly harsh.

“Fresh produce must always be washed – true or false?
Answer: True
Fresh fruit and vegetables should never be consumed without being washed under clean, running water – even prebagged, prewashed produce.”

Chirstine Bruhn, UC Davis, do you have something to add on this? Last I saw, scientists were saying don’t rewash the pre-washed greens for fear of contaminating clean product. Food safety is not simple and there are lots of disagreements – which is why these laundry lists of do’s and don’t’s, are fairly useless. People are interested in this stuff, give them some data, some information, some context, not just questionable marching orders.

“What temperature does your stuffed Thanksgiving turkey need to reach before it is safe to eat?
Answer: d) 82 C (180 F)
Use a digital meat thermometer and cook your turkey until the temperature at the thickest part of the breast or thigh is at least 82 C (180 F)."

No idea where this comes from, because Health Canada won’t let mere mortals peek at the wizard behind the green curtain who makes such pronouncements (watch the video below for how Health Canada derives at consumer recommendations for things like cooking temperatures). The recommended internal temperature in the U.S. is 165F. You can read how that number was determined at

Both are better than the U.K.’s, “piping hot.”

“What is the safest way to thaw your Thanksgiving turkey?
Answer: d) In the fridge
 Never defrost a turkey at room temperature.”

Yes you can, and I will be this weekend. Check out Pete Snyder’s comments and our own work in this area.

We’ll be videotaping the turkey preparation for our annual Canadian-expat-in-Manhattan (Kansas) Thanksgiving feast on Monday.

How to thaw and cook turkey

"You get the sense that people pay more attention to food safety (on Thanksgiving) than any other day of the year, and they should do the same the other 364 days of the year."

That’s what I said to the Kansas State University newspaper yesterday as the U.S. gets ready to launch into its annual six-week orgy of shopping and food known as the holidays.

Thanksgiving is a celebration of the harvest and my favorite holiday. Canada has Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October, about 5 weeks before the American version because it’s colder and the crops are harvested earlier. I blogged about turkeys back then, but here goes again.

I thaw meat on the counter, in a roasting pan. Some governments and industry hate this, but it works and can be safe. Pete Snyder at the Hospitality Institute of Technology and Management in St. Paul, Minnesota, has a nice summary available at My group wrote a review note on the topic a few years ago, and it is included in its entirety at

However you prepare the bird, don’t wash the bird — that just spreads dangerous bacteria everywhere — and wash your damn hands when you’re done. And during. There’s nothing worse than those celebrity chefs who play with raw product and then touch everything else in the kitchen, including ready-to-eat food, contaminating everything. Pete’s method is at

Clean up the counter and everywhere to avoid cross-contamination. Tips on that are available at

And use a digital, tip-sensitive meat thermometer to ensure the bird reaches an internal temperature of 165F. Color is a lousy indicator of doneness.

Cool leftovers promptly. I make a decent turkey stock. Try to enjoy your family — mine were here last weekend — and don’t make them barf.