The news about mad cow disease got everyone’s attention, but it’s the headline in the Houston Chronicle that really piqued my interest – “Of all food threats, mad cow ranks low.” Say what??
Here’s what the Associate Press (AP) reported in the story: “Just in the past few months, Americans have been sickened by contaminated sprouts, raw milk and sushi. Thirty people died last year from bacteria-tainted cantaloupe. And when it comes to hamburger, a dangerous strain of E. coli that can lurk in ground beef sickens thousands of people every year.” The AP story also noted that only four cows with mad cow disease have ever been diagnosed in the United States, with the one found earlier this week being the first since 2005. Furthermore, there’s not been a human version of the illness that has been linked to consuming beef from cows raised in the United States.
All of this has gotten me thinking about food safety related to meats, poultry and seafood. That comes down to the selection, preparation, and cooking. This sharepost will focus specifically on the cooking part of that equation since heat can destroy many of the bacteria on these proteins.
Here’s what FoodSafety.gov, which is a website provided of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recommends:
- Meat – This category includes beef, bison, corned beef, game goat, ham, hamburger (ground beef), hot dogs, jerky, lamb, pork, rabbit, sausages and veal. Through cooking will destroy bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella and listeria. However, meat can become contaminated again if it’s not handled and stored properly. (I'll go into these topics in a later sharepost.) The website recommends using a food thermometer to ensure that cooked meats have reached a safe minimum internal temperature. For ground meat and meat mixtures, that’s 160 degrees. If you’re making steaks, roasts and chops, aim for 145 degrees. Also, when you remove meat such as steaks, roasts and chops from the heat source, cover them with foil and let them rest for three minutes which lets the temperature remain constant or rise a bit more. This procedure destroys harmful germs. Fresh pork and ham should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees and let rest for three minutes. Precooked ham should be preheated to an internal temperature of 140 degrees; no resting is necessary for this type of meat.
- Poultry – This category includes chicken, duck, emu, game birds, giblets, goose, ground poultry, hot dogs, ostrich and rhea. The website notes that the only way to kill bacteria such as salmonella, listeria and campylobacter from poultry is to cook the chicken to the proper temperature. Poultry should be cooked to 165 degrees; no standing time is necessary.
- Turkey – Whole turkeys as well as turkey breasts, thighs and legs, as well as stuffing that is cooked alone or in the bird should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. You don’t need to let this type of poultry rest.
- Seafood – Raw seafood can contain bacteria that only are eliminated by cooking. (Some seafood also may contain mercury, which I'll cover in a later sharepost.) FoodSafety.gov recommends that fin fish be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees or until the flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork. Shrimp, lobsters and crabs should be cooked until they are pearly and opaque. Clams, oysters and mussels should be cooked until the shells open. Scallops are fully cooked when the flesh is milky white or opaque and firm. All of these types of seafood do not require any rest time.
Cooking proteins – beef, poultry and seafood -to a specific temperature can protect you from food-borne bacteria and illnesses. In later shareposts, I’ll cover food safety related to the selection and storage of meats as well as the preparation and and proper cooking techniques for other foods.
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