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Gobbling Up The Safe Farm-To-Fork Food Experience

09.oct.03, Ben Chapman (with files from Bonnie Lacroix), Commentary from the Food Safety Network

09.oct.03, Ben Chapman (with files from Bonnie Lacroix), Commentary from the Food Safety Network
This weekend is sure to provide another stellar feast at the Chapman homestead.
The spread is not going to include football commentator John Madden's
Tur-duck-en (the duck, stuffed in a chicken, stuffed in a turkey, with
stuffing in-between the meat), but will consist of the standard fare: a 16 lb.
turkey, mashed potatoes, some form of vegetable (or filler, as I call it), and
then the apple pies.
This will be the first year that we know exactly where our turkey came from; my
girlfriend's sister and her boyfriend have raised a few for family and friends.
When first told about the poultry raising venture, I -- the over inquisitive
food safety geek -- asked the question about the safety of eating the birds.
What types of things were they doing to make sure that more of my Monday can be
spent watching football, without the uncomfortable bathroom visits that
foodborne illness can produce?. It is estimated that 2-7 million Canadians get
these extra toilet trips every year, but it can be drastically worse for the at
least 30 Canadians who die from food and water pathogens.
My girlfriend's sister explained to me that the birds are killed, bled and
packaged at a slaughterhouse, are inspected for illness and tested for
pathogens. The birds come delivered wrapped in plastic, from a chilled,
sanitized truck, to minimize the chances of bacterial cross-contamination and
growth. They take steps on the farm, and during transportation, to reduce the
risk of making people sick. Many farmers have recognized that on-farm food
safety is becoming the cost of doing business in North America, even in
produce. For example, U.S. farmers are currently part of a Hepatitis A
outbreak investigation; in September, 170 people in multiple states became ill
with the virus. Health authorities are looking at prepackaged vegetables or
salads as the likely source, which often are not washed once in the kitchen
before being served.
Hepatitis A is particularly tough to control as it can be passed on without an
infected person even knowing they are ill -- highlighting the importance of
good agricultural practices and hygiene.
As we will be consuming a fresh thanksgiving bird this year, we won't be
dealing with the highly debated topic of how to safely thaw a turkey; though we
have another one in the freezer ready to go for the holidays in December. A
recent Food Safety Network review of three studies of thawing chicken or turkey
under home conditions revealed there are cautions for all methods. Whether in
the fridge, on the counter top, in the sink (or in odd places such as the
garden shed or the trunk of the car, where, according to a 2002 survey, 1 in 20
Brits thaw theirs) cooking to an adequate internal temperature, validated with
a meat thermometer, is the more critical step. The available science suggests
that the ideal way to thaw on the counter is to provide some kind of insulation
- like wrapping the frozen turkey in eight layers of newsprint. This keeps the
surface area cool enough to prevent any disease causing bacteria from growing
rapidly on the outside surface while the inside continues to thaw. Problems
arise when a turkey is not completely thawed and times for cooking fresh turkey
are applied. In such circumstances, additional roasting time is necessary;
using a meat thermometer is the best way to know when the turkey is done.
My mom, a chef by trade, is pretty particular about her cooking and her food
safety. Always a big fan of the meat thermometer, she'll check that the
internal temperature of our loosely-stuffed turkey reaches (82ÉC) or 180ÉF.
The thermometer is used not only for safety, but also to make sure that our
bird hasn't been overcooked, resulting in a dry, tough eat. After the meal, Mom
lets the turkey cool for an hour or so, and gets ready for leftover
preparation, while I have a little dessert preparation myself -- a nap. Mom
removes the extra meat from the bones, cuts-up the big pieces, bags them and
sends them into the fridge. Leaving the turkey to cool overnight is risky; at
room temperature, as just one bacterium can grow to over 2 million.
Food Safety isn't simple and needs constant commitment from farm to fork. My
girlfriend's sister and my mom get this; I just hope they don't catch on that
I'm not helping out in the kitchen.

Ben Chapman is a Graduate Student with the Food Safety Network at the
University of Guelph
519-824-4120 x54280
519-829-6476
bchapman@uoguelph.ca