Just cook it doesn’t cut it; the Frank version

Frank Yiannas writes in this edited version:

Over the past few years, in the U.S., we’ve seen reports by public health officials of continued outbreaks related to undercooked ground beef patties and ground turkey.  

More recently, we’re reading about a nationwide outbreak of Salmonella due to undercooked poultry.  

This really comes as no surprise, as published scientific surveys have repeatedly shown that a small percentage of consumers will actually chicken.therm_-300x225undercook ground meat and poultry when they prepare it at home. 

While the presence of pathogens such as Salmonella in raw ground meat and raw poultry is considered undesirable, we all know it’s unavoidable given the current state of the science and industry’s best practices as used all over the world. 

Therefore, when such outbreaks occur, there are some food safety professionals in industry, academia, and regulatory that state that consumers “just need to cook it” – since the consumer is the final safety net.   And while this is true – and I’m certainly an advocate for a “shared responsibility for food safety” with consumers having to do their part – as I think about the continued outbreaks associated with ground meat and poultry products, I can’t help but wonder if the “just cook it” mindset is operating on an old paradigm. 

To be successful in today’s modern food system, a new paradigm for raw ground beef and raw poultry is starting to emerge. I call it the “Strategic Control Point paradigm.”

We must realize that some risk is best controlled very early in the food production chain and that not all critical control points (CCP) are equal.  

For example, if we truly want to reduce the incidence of Salmonella linked to undercooked ground meat and poultry products in the population, as a FunkyChickenHi-233x300society, let’s focus on developing very effective Strategic Control Points (SCP).  If producers can continue (as they’ve already done) to reduce rates of contamination of Salmonella early in the food production chain through a SCP (and consumers accept the intervention techniques used), I am quite confident that the number of human cases of Salmonella will dramatically drop.  But if we rely on the final cook, whether it be in a restaurant or in a home, our risk reduction benefits will be less noticeable.

Rice, produce, eggs; different people worry about different foods

It’s the rice I worry about the most; then the fresh produce, then the eggs.

But when eggs are pooled at a restaurant to make a mayonnaise or aioli, then I worry about that.

Lucy Townsend of the BBC logically asks, Why are we more scared of raw egg than reheated rice?

The 25th anniversary of former U.K. ag minister Edwina Currie’s remarks about Salmonella in eggs – which got her fired – have sparked a number of watercressnostalgic stories, and consumers are still left in the dark.

“The saying was that salmonella and eggs go together like a horse and carriage,” says Sarah O’Brien, professor of Infection Epidemiology and Zoonoses at the University of Liverpool. “But that’s not the case. Improved testing methods and improved treatment mean foods that used to be unusual causes of outbreaks have become the usual suspects.”

Watercress, beansprouts and curry leaves are believed to have been behind some of the most high profile outbreaks of food poisoning recently. People have died after eating contaminated celery, peanut butter and cantaloupe melon

One of the more unusual outbreaks of food poisoning happened in 1951 in the French town of Pont-Saint-Esprit. Five people died and many suffered hallucinations after eating rye bread contaminated by ergot, a poisonous fungus. Ergot poisoning is, thankfully, easily avoided.

“Any food can be poisonous if it is not prepared or stored correctly,” says Dr Haruna Musa Moda of the Food Research Centre at Manchester Metropolitan University.

“Chicken, eggs and shellfish are classed as high risk, but so are rice, pasta, couscous – starchy foods that have high moisture content. Ready meals and cooked meats are also on the high risk list, but people don’t tend to think about them so much.”

Sad: Oregon’s Bill Keene dies at 56

He linked Norovirus to diaper changing tables in public restrooms. He linked deer feces to an E. coli outbreak in strawberries. He linked Salmonella to Del Monte cantaloupe from Guatamala and got sued for his efforts (the company lost).

And now we’ve all lost because Bill Keene, senior epidemiologist with bill.keene.portlandOregon public health, has passed away, at 56.

According to Lynne Terry of The Oregonian, he was rushed to the hospital about two weeks ago, suffering acute pancreatitis. On Sunday afternoon, he was gone.

“We’re all in shock,” said Pam Keene, his youngest sister.

Keene grew up in Seattle, earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Yale University in 1977 and a doctorate in microbiology and master’s in public health from the University of California at Berkeley in 1989.

A year later, he was hired as an epidemiologist at the Oregon Public Health Division, where he cracked numerous food poisoning outbreaks, tramping through strawberry fields and cow pastures, collecting samples to test for pathogens. When an outbreak hit, he worked around the clock to solve it and was so passionate about his work that he had an “outbreak museum” on bookshelves in his office, displaying packages and jars that once held contaminated food.

Keene was both highly intelligent and hard-working, earning respect among colleagues nationwide for his dogged determination to find the culprit in food poisoning outbreaks. He dealt with about 200 a year, helping to solve many of them.

Michael Osterholm, head of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, called Keene one of the “food safety heroes in the U.S.”

Last time I  chatted with Bill a few months ago, he wanted to make people more aware that when there’s an outbreak of foodborne illness, the government types who say, “no illnesses have been identified” are usually wrong, and the numbers are vastly underestimated.

I agreed to help Bill with that noble goal.

55 sick: possible Norovirus at school camp in Australia

At least 55 children and their teachers became violently ill with nausea, vomiting, dehydration and diarrhea during a three-day stay at the Borambola Sport and Recreation Centre in New South Wales, Australia.

Eleven ambulances from across the region and medical staff from Wagga Base Hospital were called to the center.

Initially the number of those affected was only small, but it quickly became apparent it was highly contagious with about 55 falling ill over the course of Borambola Sport and Recreation Centrejust a few hours. The situation turned into a major incident in the eyes of health authorities, prompting an investigation by NSW Health, Murrumbidgee Local Health District (MLHD) Public Health Unit and an environmental health officer. 

The centre was locked down in a bid to stop the illness spreading and effectively manage treatment, according to MLHD director of nursing Irene Hing. 

Food outlets will be forced to display hygiene ratings in Wales

My relatives in Wales will now be able to see scores on doors – and not just if they’re good scores.

Restaurant inspection disclosure has become somewhat routine throughout North America, but for reasons I don’t understand it has been introduced on a voluntary basis in places like the U.K. and Australia.

Welsh GovernmentMeaning, if a restaurant got a lousy inspection, it wouldn’t post the result.

Wales has said, enough of that.

According to a new law, over the next 18 months, restaurants, takeaways and supermarkets must display ratings from 0 (lowest) to 5 (highest).

But the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) is still worried that food premises with poor ratings will not get their re-inspections quickly enough.

The grading system applies to places where people eat out and shop for food, as well as hospitals, schools, care homes and children’s nurseries.

Outlets are rated according to how they prepare, cook and store food, the condition of their premises and food safety management.

The law – which will be enforced by local councils – requires businesses to display their ratings prominently, such as on the front door or window and at every customer entrance.

This will not happen immediately as there is a transitional period meaning premises inspected and rated from now on must display their rating.

rest.disclosure.FHRSThose that do not comply can be fined.

Speaking at a restaurant in Cardiff Bay awarded a ’5′ rating under the voluntary scheme, Health Minister Mark Drakeford said customers could now make “informed decisions” about where to eat or buy food.

“People want to know that the places where they are buying or eating their food are hygienic and safe,” he said.

“It is not easy to judge hygiene standards on appearance alone, so the rating gives people information of the hygiene practices in the kitchen.

“The new scheme is also good for business in that establishments given higher ratings could see an increase in their trade,” Mr Drakeford added.

Restaurant grading systems are fraught with difficulties, but are an essential tool to provide minimal food safety information to consumers.

Filion, K. and Powell, D.A. 2009.

The use of restaurant inspection disclosure systems as a means of communicating food safety information.

Journal of Foodservice 20: 287-297.


The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of individuals in developed countries become ill from food or water each year. Up to 70% of these illnesses are estimated to be linked to food prepared at foodservice establishments. Consumer confidence in the safety of food prepared in restaurants is fragile, varying significantly from year to year, with many consumers attributing foodborne illness to foodservice. One of the key drivers of restaurant choice is consumer perception of the hygiene of a restaurant. Restaurant hygiene information is something consumers desire, and when available, may use to make dining decisions.

Raw egg mayo the unsafe preference at restaurants in Brisbane

When I think American Thanskgiving, I think of Australian mussels at a Belgian restaurant in Brisbane.

So where’s the food safety risk in a batch of moules frites with a bunch of language professors?

moules.frites.nov.13Maybe it’s in the mayo.

Australia has an egg problem along with a form of food snobbery that means chefs will only prepare aioli and mayonnaise with raw eggs.

So I’ve gotten in the habit of asking, how was this made?

That’s mayo that came with the chips yesterday (right).

After retiring to the kitchen, the waitress told me the mayo was “made with raw eggs and imported from Europe.”

In Brisbane, where at least 220 were sickened from mayo made with raw eggs just two weeks ago, no one at lunch yesterday was concerned (except Amy, but she lives with me).

If consumers want control over their food supply they have to ask questions and demand safer food.

Butterball CEO explains why Turkey Talk Line hired men

If Steven Colbert doesn’t see race, I don’t see gender.

It was a conversation over a turkey stock recipe with my father about 12 years ago that led to the paper about bad food safety on cooking shows.

But it’s only now that Butterball CEO Rod Brenneman has hired men for its West Wing famed Turkey Talk Line at 1-800-BUTTERBALL. The toll-free line why-butterball-hired-men-to-field-calls-to-its-turkey-talk-hotlinehas been a resource for cooks with questions about preparing their holiday feasts since 1981. On Thanksgiving alone, Butterball says the line fields more than 12,000 calls.

Brenneman  says, “One in four calls we get at the Turkey Talk Line are men, believe it or not. We stepped back and looked at the changing Thanksgiving table and men are becoming more and more a part of, not only the carving of the turkey, but the cooking of the turkey.”

Males have been doing it a lot longer than that. Females too.

The sous vide of the suburbs: who cooks turkey in a dishwasher?

Ben Raymond, an aptly named graduate student with Ben Chapman at North Carolina State University writes he has become the dishwasher-cooking-food-safety guru of our group.

If you can’t seem to keep your Thanksgiving turkey moist in the oven, you may want to try your dishwasher. Yes, people have been using the kitchen turkey.dishwasherwashing machine to cook proteins and fish since the 1970s, but famed chef David Burke insists you can also use it to cook the star of your Thanksgiving meal.

But before you start shoving your entire turkey in the dishwasher, Burke’s recipe calls for two boneless turkey breasts, not the entire bird. The meat and herbs are packed tightly in plastic wrap then sealed in Tupperware containers before hitting the top shelf of the dishwasher for three cycles or about 3 hours and 25 minutes.

This cooking technique is getting some play in the social mediaverse as a way to make moist, tender chicken, fish, or even beef –sort of a sous vide for the suburbs (without the thermal immersion circulator).

Earlier this fall I did a quick and dirty test of this technique in my own dishwasher.  With some nifty water-proof stainless data-loggers, I’ve run few cycles in the dishwasher to see if you can safely cook various proteins. Is it a safe method? The data I’ve generated points to, unsurprisingly, sort of.

Salmon cooks nicely and reaches a safe (and tender) time and temperature combination as suggested 145° F.  Even poultry may be cooked safely in the dishwasher (at least in my home, no promises for any other setup), but only if you have expensive tools to monitor the cooking process.  The data shows the proteins were held at temperatures below 165° F, but still hot enough ben.raymondand for sufficient time to effectively be cooked (as per FSIS’ appendix A. As a home cook, armed with a tip sensitive digital thermometer, the meat is unlikely to ever register the recommended 165° F internal temperature.

There’s lots of variability though.  Other dishwashers may be hotter than mine, or not (we have very hot water in my house, over 145° F from the tap).  

All of this effort the chicken I cooked in my dishwasher was gross. It never got hot enough for the proteins to really cook and move past the rubberyish texture of raw of chicken.  I like my steaks medium rare, but poultry? No thanks.  In my house we will be sticking with our traditional, yet boring, oven to roast our Thanksgiving bird.