How to have an uninvited Thanksgiving guest: Washing turkey, not using thermometer can be recipe for food poisoning

From a Kansas State University press release:

When it comes to your Thanksgiving turkey, a Kansas State University food safety expert has two tips that could help keep your holiday meal safer:

* Don’t give your turkey a bath.

* Always take your turkey’s temperature.

Washing the turkey before popping it in the oven may be something you saw your mom — or grandmother — do, but Doug Powell, professor of food safety, said it’s a practice where mom really didn’t know best.

“Washing the bird has long been disregarded because of the food safety risk of cross-contamination,” he said. “Do not wash that bird — you’ll spread bacteria everywhere.”

Studies have found food poisoning bacteria like campylobacter or salmonella are common on poultry carcasses and can easily be spread by the splashes from washing the bird, Powell said. That means the sink, countertops, water taps and anything else in the vicinity — including other food — can become cross-contaminated. Washing hands after handling and preparing the bird also is a must.

Once the unwashed bird is in the oven, Powell said cooks should do themselves a favor and rely on a good thermometer to let them know when the main attraction is ready. Turkey should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Just checking to see if the juices from the bird run clear when the bird is pricked isn’t an accurate indicator of its doneness.

“Color is a lousy indicator of safety,” Powell said. “No matter how you cook your bird, the key is to use a tip-sensitive digital thermometer to verify safety.”

To help keep foodborne illness from spoiling the Thanksgiving holiday, check out food safety infosheets, prepared by Powell and Benjamin Chapman, a food safety specialist and assistant professor of family and consumer sciences at North Carolina State University, available at Powell’s blog:

* For tips on why not to bathe the bird,

* For tips on preventing holiday foodborne illness,

* For tips on holiday meal safety,

A holiday food safety video also is available at And the Spanish and French translations of the infosheets can be found at and

Don’t wash raw chicken, use a thermometer for safety; Australian food safety types catching on

Surveys still suck, but they can give an indication of food safety practices to investigate more rigorously.

The Australian Food Safety Information Council has released national survey data that shows 60% of home cooks in Australia are putting themselves at additional risk of food poisoning by washing whole poultry before it is cooked which spreads bacteria around the kitchen. A further 16% of those surveyed incorrectly tasted chicken to see if it is cooked properly rather than use a safe and accurate meat thermometer.

Food Safety Information Council Chairman, Dr Michael Eyles, says 6 in 10 home cooks in a national Newspoll survey washed whole chicken before they cooked it, with 5 in 10 washing chicken pieces with skin on and 4 in 10 washing skinless chicken pieces.

“According to a Food Standards Australia New Zealand survey 84% of raw chicken carcasses tested positive to the food poisoning bacteria Campylobacter and 22% to Salmonella. This is similar to the findings of other surveys overseas. Notified cases of illness from Campylobacter and Salmonella in Australia have almost doubled over the last 20 years. OzFoodnet estimates there are approximately 220,000 cases of Campylobacter infection each year with more than 75% transmitted by food and 50,000 cases of Campylobacter infection each year can be attributed either directly or indirectly to chicken meat.

”Home cooks are probably following what their parents or grandparents did in the past by washing poultry, not to mention probably patting it dry with a tea towel. Washing poultry splashes these bacteria around the kitchen cross contaminating sinks, taps, your hands, utensils, chopping boards and foods that aren’t going to be cooked like salads or desserts.

“Cooking poultry right through kills these bacteria, making it safe. However, 16% of those surveyed, rather than using a meat thermometer or checking if juices run clear and are no longer pink, say they eat some chicken to see if tastes cooked, with males significantly more likely to do this than females,’ Dr Eyles concludes.

Color is still a lousy indicator of safety, but at least they mention thermometers.

Any agency that wants to say it’s science-based should provide credible evidence; otherwise it’s just another food huckster hiding behind the impartir of science. Consumers can handle more information, not less, and some credible references would boost, uh, credibility.

Oh, the Brits: Attack of the poisoned lettuces! The dangers lurking in pre-packaged salad leaves

There’s a hot mess of a story about lettuce in the UK’s Daily Mail this weekend, that seems to capitulate between pre-packed lettuce and head lettuce, which have different consumer washing requirements for safety.

The story also leaves the impression that food safety lies with consumers and that washing does a lot.

Washing does a little.

Preventing or limiting contamination on the farm is far more important, especially for produce.

The Daily Mail story begins, “It is there on every packet of salad: ‘wash before eating’. But how many of us will simply rip open the wrapping and empty the contents into a salad bowl, or tear it into a sandwich without a second thought?

“Doing so could yield unpleasant results, says the Food Standards Agency (FSA), the Government’s advisory body.”

The Mail on Sunday conducted a special investigation – and discovered food-poisoning bacteria could be present in one in 20 lettuces in some supermarkets.

We bought 120 whole lettuces, all British-grown, including little gem, round and cos, purchasing 20 from each of six different supermarkets: Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Asda.

All the lettuces were taken to a food-testing laboratory and screened for Listeria monocytogenes and E.coli.

Of the 120 lettuces we tested, three were contaminated: 2.5 per cent, or one in 40.

A Morrisons lettuce contained 20 cfu/g, while one from Waitrose contained 490 cfu/g.

Of the high E.coli reading, a Waitrose spokesperson comments: ‘While we strictly enforce the highest hygiene standards at all farms supplying us, we would always recommend people follow Government advice and wash all produce.’

A spokesman for Morrisons said: ‘There’s nothing here to be concerned about but we recommend all customers follow the FSA’s recommendation that all lettuce be washed.’

Nothing to be concerned about; move along. But there is a difference between pre-packaged and other kinds of lettuce.

Bob Martin, a microbiologist at the FSA, seems to get it, when he says , “Most produce in the shops is deceptive because it looks clean. But unless it’s labelled ‘washed and ready to eat’ it must always be thoroughly washed.”

Washing pre-washed leafy greens in the home isn’t going to accomplish further risk-reduction than what was applied at processing.

A review paper published in Food Protection Trends in 2007 contained guidelines developed by a U.S. national panel of food safety types and concluded:

"… leafy green salad in sealed bags labeled ‘washed’ or ‘ready-to-eat’ that are produced in a facility inspected by a regulatory authority and operated under cGMPs, does not need additional washing at the time of use unless specifically directed on the label.”?The panel also advised that additional washing of ready-to-eat green salads is not likely to enhance safety.

“The risk of cross contamination from food handlers and food contact surfaces used during washing may outweigh any safety benefit that further washing may confer."

A table of leafy green-related outbreak is available at

I’m not sure there’s any data out there that shows washing would have reduced risk in any of those outbreaks.

Cross-contamination: washing chicken or any meat is a bad idea

Michael Formichella is a chef who blogs for, sponsored by the American Meat Institute (the views and opinions are strictly those of the author).

This past Friday, Formichella wrote, “Some basic common sense plays a huge role in safe outdoor dining and picnics.”

Except common sense isn’t common unless you’ve thought about it.

“With chicken being one of the popular proteins of choice here in the U.S., some simple precautions can go a long way. Safe temperature, washing and drying any meat before use must be done.”

Washing and drying of raw meat was abandoned as recommended practice years ago.

In a Dec. 24, 2004 article in the National Post, Fergus Clydesdale at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and who was on the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, said, "The risk of cross-contamination through washing poultry is far greater than shoving it in the oven without washing it, which makes the risk almost zero.”

Even the Brits agree, stating, ”Washing raw poultry is a common kitchen mistake, and it simply isn’t necessary. … By washing your raw bird, you’re actually more likely to spread the germs around the kitchen than get rid of them.”

Washing raw meat is a risk

It’s Taste of Charlotte not Taste of Bacon.

And whatever the meat, don’t wash it.

Fox Charlotte (that’s in North Carolina) interviewed some vendors at the annual Taste of Charlotte, where Mital Naik of the Brazz Steakhouse booth was preparing to feed 5,000 people a sampling of 10 types of meats prepared on a traditional Brazilian grill.

"Today we’re doing filet wrapped in bacon and chicken wrapped in bacon and scallops wrapped in bacon," Naik said.

As Health Officials race against the clock to determine the cause of an E. coli outbreak just hours away in Atlanta, Naik said he’s making sure his high-end steak house’s meat is thoroughly cooked and washed. Naik said, "It’s something you have to think about."

Don’t wash raw meats. Salmonella and other bugs can be sprayed up to 3 feet away by washing. Canadian, American and even British governments all recommend no washing of raw meat. Washing cooked meat may not help with that high-end appeal.

Should pre-washed, bagged leafy greens be washed again at home? NPR says yes, many food safety types say no

Should bagged, pre-washed salad greens be washed again in the home kitchen?

Many food safety types say no.

During the idle but oh-so-smoothing brand of chat-chit practiced by National Public Radio that preceded a story about E. coli and Salmonella in leafy greens from Salinas, Calif., one reporter said, “I wash it every time but I don’t know if it actually helps.”

Reporter Dan Charles responded, “It says prewashed but washing might help.”

So might a lot of others things not fit for this family publication.

A review paper published in Food Protection Trends in 2007 contained guidelines developed by a panel of food safety types and concluded:

"… leafy green salad in sealed bags labeled ‘washed’ or ‘ready-to-eat’ that are produced in a facility inspected by a regulatory authority and operated under cGMPs, does not need additional washing at the time of use unless specifically directed on the label.”

The panel also advised that additional washing of ready-to-eat green salads is not likely to enhance safety.

“The risk of cross contamination from food handlers and food contact surfaces used during washing may outweigh any safety benefit that further washing may confer."

When washing at home, "there’s a risk that is the sink where you just washed your chicken," said Donald Schaffner, Rutgers University professor of food science, in a 2011 interview.

Today’s NPR soothfest revisited what growers in California are doing to enhanced food safety and the 2006 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in spinach that killed 3 and sickened at least 200.

Will Daniels, senior vice president for operations and organic integrity at Earthbound Farm, based in San Juan Bautista, told NPR, "I was at the center of the investigation and really took it very hard. It was just a real tough time to go through, and something that I don’t ever want to go through again."

Investigators found E. coli bacteria that matched the microbes that were making people sick on a ranch that was one of Earthbound’s suppliers. But those bacteria were in animal feces a mile from the spinach field, Daniels says, "with no clear indication of what caused the contamination from a mile away to get into the spinach field itself."

"Unfortunately, it looks like every animal is suspect," says Bob Martin, general manager of Rio Farms, in King City, Calif.

Even birds. "Birds are a big issue! They carry human pathogens, and we can’t put diapers on them. We can’t dome our fields; there’s nothing we can do, short of trying to scare them away.”

Lettuce fields now have to be separated from cattle pastures, and throughout the valley, next to lettuce fields, you see white plastic pipes. Inside those pipes are mouse traps.

And the birds? Vegetable buyers won’t take anything from the area directly under power lines.

"When it comes to food safety, if it’s grown outdoors, forget it, there’s no such thing as zero tolerance," says Bob Martin. "And everybody knows that, except for some food safety personnel of the big food buyers."

Daniels of Earthbound Farms was further quoted as saying, "It is a true test-and-hold program, so we have to wait to get the negative results before we put it on a truck. Any positives go to the landfill.”

There still are positives. Not very often, but every five weeks or so, one of these tests catches a sample that’s contaminated with disease-causing E. coli or Salmonella.

A table of leafy green related outbreak is available at

How to wash produce and what consumers say they do

Surveys still suck.

But at least researchers from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recognize the limitations of self-reported food safety behavior, in this case applied to produce washing practices in the kitchen. From a recent paper in Food Protection Trends:

“Although washing does not guarantee removal of pathogens if the item has become contaminated, it increases the likelihood that pathogens will be removed, compared with not washing or using washing methods that are not recommended. Soaking and use of any type of cleaner are not recommended washing methods. Soaking does not remove contami¬nants as effectively as rubbing or rinsing produce under running water. Cleaners not meant for produce can introduce chemical contaminants, and produce washes are considered no more effective than water. Unlike other types of produce, almost all bagged, pre-cut let¬tuce in the market place is pre-washed. For bagged, pre-cut lettuce that is labeled as pre-washed, additional washing is not recommended as it is not likely to en¬hance safety and introduces the op¬portunity for cross-contamination of the product with pathogens that may be in the home kitchen. …

“This study has some strengths and limitations. One of the limitations is that the data are self-reported. We rely on consumers’ ability to both remember what they do and convey it accurately. Self-reporting is also subject to the de¬sire to give socially desirable responses; an observational study of consumer produce washing showed that far fewer consumers actually wash produce than report doing so in surveys. Also, the findings would have been more use¬ful if we had asked consumers why they washed cantaloupes and bagged, pre-cut lettuce. Finally, our survey suffered from the increasingly common problem of low response rates for household sur¬veys, although this does not necessarily bias the survey results. Some of the main strengths of this study are the sampling method, large sample size and weighting strategy, which allows our findings to be representative of the population. This allows us to make comparisons at the population level.

“Food Safety practices should be¬gin on the farm and be rigorously ap¬plied along the entire chain so that food products are safe for human consump¬tion without the need for extraordinary measures. Consumers, however, are the critical endpoint along the food supply chain. Educational efforts with respect to product washing should focus on explaining why it is important to wash hard rind produce such as cantaloupe be¬fore cutting, but not rewashing produce that is ready to be eaten.”

The abstract is below:

Consumer vegetable and fruit washing practices in the United States, 2006 and 2010
Food Protection Trends, Vol. 32, No. 4, Pages 164–172
Linda Verrill, Amy M. Lando 1 and Kellie M. O’Connell
Vegetables and fruits may become contaminated with pathogens anywhere along the farm-to-plate continuum. Therefore, the FDA recommends that vegetables and fruits that have not already been washed be washed by the consumer before slicing or consuming them. The FDA included in its 2006 and 2010 Food Safety Survey a series of questions about purchasing and washing of strawberries, tomatoes, cantaloupes, and bagged, pre-cut lettuce. The Food Safety Survey is a telephone survey tracking consumers’ knowledge, attitudes and behaviors related to food safety. In 2006, of those who buy these products, 98% wash strawberries, 97% wash tomatoes, 57% wash cantaloupes and 54% wash bagged pre-cut lettuce. Overall, for both years, more women than men wash cantaloupes, and more men than women wash bagged pre-cut lettuce. Cantaloupe washing declined from 2006 to 2010 for men, while lettuce washing increased for women in the same period. Targeted education campaigns should emphasize the importance of washing produce, especially fruits with hard rinds.

Slippage and snot happens: wash your hands of these food safety myths

Sprouts are not a health food. But there’s lots of other food safety myths. USA Today’s Elizabeth Weise spoke with food safety experts to pull together a list of the most common food safety myths.

* Mayonnaise is a death trap.

Actually, mayonnaise is an ingredient "with penicillin-like properties," says Don Zink, senior science adviser for the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition in College Park, Md. Mayo is a homogenized mixture of oil and water, with egg white to stabilize it. The salt and vinegar or lemon juice makes the tiny droplets of water suspended in the mixture deadly to microbes. So for a safer salad, don’t hold the mayo. Putting in more mayonnaise only makes it safer, he says. No, not forever, but certainly long enough for a picnic.

• Pink pork is a no-no.

Not any more. Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture revised its decades-old guidelines and now says that pork, and all whole meat cuts, have to get to only 145 degrees internally, not the 160 the agency had previously suggested. That means a pork roast can have a rosy interior, not the dead gray of your mom’s roast. The change comes because despite everything you were ever told, there’s no trichinosis in commercial pigs. The parasitic disease is caused by eating raw or undercooked meat infected with roundworm larvae. It was a problem years ago, but no longer exists in commercially grown pork, according to the National Pork Board in Des Moines.

• You can smell when food’s gone bad.

Microorganisms divide into two main groups, those that cause spoilage and those that cause disease. There’s some overlap, but many bacteria that cause disease don’t cause overt spoilage. "You could have loads of E. coli or salmonella or listeria in a food and it would not appear to be spoiled or have any off-odor or flavor," says the FDA’s Don Zink. The only real way to judge the safety of a food is by what you know about how it was prepared and stored.

• You should wash produce and meat.

This one seems like a no-brainer: Washing makes things cleaner, right? Wrong. People think they can make produce safer by rinsing it under the tap, but that’s a holdover from the days when they carried in vegetables straight from the garden, still dripping with dew, dirt and the occasional slug. Bagged leafy greens don’t need to be washed at all. "Just open the bag and put them in the salad bowl," says the FDA’s Zink. They were already washed in a sanitizing solution at the packing plant and frankly it was probably a lot cleaner than your kitchen.

Micro-organisms actually bond to the surface of the food item. "You are not going to rinse them off, it simply won’t happen, they cannot be washed off," he says.

All washing might do is "remove the snot that some 3-year-old blew onto the food at the grocery store," says the ever-forthright Powell at Kansas State. Washing "lowers the pathogen count a little, but not to safe levels if it’s contaminated."

Even though half the recipes involving meat tell you to rinse it off (especially chicken and turkey), this is unnecessary and actually dangerous, says Elisabeth Hagen, under- secretary for food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Rinsing meat or poultry with water can actually increase your chance of food poisoning by splashing raw juices and any bacteria they might contain onto your sink and counters."

• If the water touched your hands, they’re clean.

Think a quick rinse of your hands before you handle food is good enough? Nice try. A good hand-washing takes at least 20 seconds, says Doug Powell, a professor of food safety at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan., who has written research papers on the topic. The real cleansing is done by the friction and force of rubbing your hands together, along with the soap. The temperature of the water doesn’t really matter, as it takes 160 degrees to kill bacteria, which would be fine except water that hot would also give you third-degree burns. But warm water does make it more likely you’ll spend the necessary 10 seconds scrubbing under vigorously flowing water. And then another 10 seconds of vigorous rubbing with a towel. "The friction rips the microbes off your skin," says Powell. If you really want to go for the gusto, invest in a nail brush. "Because if you had a Number Two and you experienced ‘slippage’ with your toilet paper, that’s where the pathogens go, under your nails."


Blame the consumer: E. coli O157 sickens 250 kills 1 in UK; FSA responds by telling consumers to wash veggies; just like cook your meat, it’ll be fine

Potato and leek soup is a standard in my kitchen, using chicken stock made from the weekly roast chicken.

I’m not sure what else leeks are used for, and they can contribute to some fantabulous gas, but they are a mess to clean: dirt and soil is engrained throughout the white part of the vegetable. I give them a rinse under tap water and then slice for soup. But the risk is with cross-contamination – leeks are grown in soil and whatever microorganisms are within the white bits are going to drip on the counter and elsewhere.

Be the bug, follow the bug.

The folks at the U.K. Food Standards Agency whose idea of science-based verification is to cook meat until it is piping hot, have apparently decided that E. coli O157:H7 – the dangerous kind – found on or in leeks, is the consumers’ responsibility.

Almost two months after revealing 250 people were sickened and one died with E. coli O157:H7 phage-type 8 over the previous eight months, linked to people handling loose raw leeks and potatoes in their homes, FSA has today launched a new campaign reminding people to wash raw vegetables to help minimize the risk of food poisoning.

No information on how 250 became sick over six months and the public wasn’t told, no information on farming and packing practices that may have led to such a massive contamination that so many people got sick, no information on anything: just advice to wash things thoroughly so that contamination can be spread throughout the kitchen.

Today’s FSA announcement says, “The campaign is in response to E. coli outbreaks in Britain and abroad this year including one linked to soil on raw vegetables and another caused by contaminated sprouted seeds.”

Washing sprouts does nothing, especially if the contamination is within the seed, as it most likely was in the E. coli O104 outbreak in Europe earlier this year.

The campaign messages include:

• always wash hands thoroughly before and after handling raw food, including vegetables;
• keep raw foods, including vegetables, separate from ready-to-eat foods;
• use different chopping boards, knives and utensils for raw and ready-to-eat foods, or wash thoroughly in between preparing different foods; and,
• unless packaging around vegetables says ‘ready-to-eat’ you must wash, peel or cook them before consuming.

Consumers, you are the critical control point for microorganisms that will rip out your kidneys. And you’ll be paying for the PR campaign to tell you to do better.

This Housewife is banned from my kitchen; washing chicken is a cross-contamination risk

I don’t watch any of the Real Housewives of Whereverland, but Amy does.

I don’t know the characters; I don’t care. But I like a good food safety yarn.

Lisa of The Real Housewives of Beverley Hills, says, “I’ve sold thousands of chicken dinners in my restaurant so I’m perfectly qualified to teach Adrienne how to cook a chicken. I mean, it’s not rocket science.”

Lisa and Adrienne wear gloves, spread bacteria everywhere, wash the bird, and then remove their gloves to stuff the birds with herbs and stuff.

Lisa is amazed that Adrienne wants to wash her chicken with soap.

I’m amazed Lisa the restaurant owner wants to wash the bird.

Most government agencies now advise against washing chickens, but decades will pass before bad culture catches up.

As a spokesthingy from the U.K. Food Standards Agency said a while ago,

”Washing raw poultry is a common kitchen mistake, and it simply isn’t necessary. … By washing your raw bird, you’re actually more likely to spread the germs around the kitchen than get rid of them.”