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Thermometers for Thanksgiving

22.nov.06, Douglas Powell, Commentary from the Food Safety Network

I can no longer cook without a meat thermometer. Yet almost everyone else in the U.S. can, since only 7 per cent of the population report using a thermometer on a regular basis -- and some of those are surely lying.

22.nov.06, Douglas Powell, Commentary from the Food Safety Network
I can no longer cook without a meat thermometer.
Yet almost everyone else in the U.S. can, since only 7 per cent of the population report using a thermometer on a regular basis -- and some of those are surely lying.
For example, Amy and I recently moved into a new house. I made an impromptu dinner for Amy and two of her friends, involving some ground sirloin, ground turkey, and various spices.
Only when the burgers were on the grill did I realize, my meat thermometer was at the other house.
I felt naked. Vulnerable. In a really bad position should I sicken one of our guests -- or even Amy.
Ten years ago, I thought that cooking burger patties with the assistance of a meat thermometer was silly -- who's going to put a thermometer sideways into any sort of patty and now I can't function without one.
In the Thanksgiving kick-off to the six-week orgy of shopping and food known as the holidays, one American recalled how, when dessert arrived, the family started passing around the newborn baby. As recounted on the Internet site, TotalFark, "Apparently, the baby had a pretty full diaper, and it was kinda leaking. He was passed to my uncle, and then passed to someone else. What my uncle didn't notice was that a little something rubbed off of the baby as he was passed. He looks down on his tie and sees what he believes is some pumpkin pie filling, so he scrapes it off, and takes a bite. He spent the rest of the night in the back yard throwing up. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!"
Making your friends and family sick through shared meals (and babies) is a lousy way to spend the holidays. Besides handwashing, one of the best ways to protect guests (and yourselves, oh, and even your kids) is to use a meat thermometer.
Sales of meat thermometers, at least according to a salesthingy at one of the local
kitchen gadget stores, skyrocket in the lead-up to the winter holidays. If true, it's
good news that Americans are getting the message to use a meat thermometer to ensure that the holiday bird is fully cooked.
But it may also mean that guesswork is used for cooking meat the other 363 days of the year.
And it's not just at home.
Recently in Seattle, a graduate student and I were asked how we would like our burgers, "Rare, medium, well-done?" We looked at each other, and I asked if their cooks ever used a meat thermometer. The waiter looked befuddled.
We both ordered well-done.
A food thermometer is the only way to ensure that food has reached a sufficient internal temperature to kill dangerous bugs.
In 1998, the U.S. Department of Agriculture very publicly began to urge consumers to use an accurate food thermometer when cooking ground beef patties because research demonstrated that the color of meat was not a reliable indicator that harmful bacteria such as E. coli O157:H7 have been destroyed.
In May 2000, USDA launched a national consumer education campaign to promote the use of food thermometers in the home. The campaign featured Thermy, a cartoon thermometer that proclaimed, "It's Safe to Bite When the Temperature is Right."
Goofy.
At the time, I remember saying, no one uses a meat thermometer to check the doneness of hamburgers and picking up a hamburger patty with tongs and inserting the thermometer in sideways was too complicated.
I was wrong.
Shortly thereafter, I actually started doing it and discovered, not only was using a meat thermometer fairly easy, it made me a better cook. No more extra well-done burgers to ensure the bugs that would make me sick were gone. They tasted better.
Food safety nerds like me still have passionate debates about the best thermometer and how to properly use one, but just getting in the habit of using a meat thermometer is a good start.
At least it's better than the method a TotalFark user posted: "My sister wanted to cook cornish game hens and came home from the store with full sized chickens. She figured they were the same thing. She called our mother and asked how long to cook cornish game hens.
My mom told her it to cook them for an hour or two. As my sister often does, she let me taste test it and waited long enough for me to start vomiting. She then put the chickens back in the oven for a few more hours and enjoyed a late dinner."
Douglas Powell is scientific director of the Food Safety Network at Kansas State
University.
dpowell@ksu.edu
785-317-0560 (cell)
www.foodsafety.ksu.edu