When in Doubt Throw It Out

Most of our mothers taught us to check the food before we prepare it. A slimy texture, an off color, or a bad odor is an indicator that the food has either spoiled, or has begun to spoil.

Food spoilage is caused by bacteria. As we learned in our grade school science classes, bacteria are single-celled organisms that find many of our favorite foods just as yummy as we do. In fact, they like our food so much that they decide to take up residence. They reproduce, form colonies, and as they eat, grow and eliminate body waste, they begin to break the foods down, or decompose them. This is what causes the sliminess, the mushiness, and the bad smell.

There seems to be some debate among the experts as to whether or not eating spoiled food will make you sick. While the bacterias that cause the food spoilage itself may not make us sick, it’s a safe bet that if those bacteria are present then the pathogens that do cause food-borne illnesses are probably in the mix as well. And since most of us don’t have microscopes in our kitchens, it’s best to err on the side of caution.

While we may not be able to prevent all spoilage, we can take steps to slow it down. One of the easiest is to pay attention to the “sell by” dates on the package of meat or fish, and be sure to either cook or freeze these items by that sell by date. Whenever I buy meat on the sell by date I don’t bother freezing it. I make it a point of cooking it the same day.

As soon as I remove uncooked meat or fish from the package I take a good whiff. If I detect any kind of a foul odor I immediately throw it out.  Washing or cooking the meat simply may not destroy the pathogens that cause food-borne illnesses. Yes, it’s a bummer when you have to waste an expensive piece of meat or fish, but which is more costly? The price of the meat, or cost of the emergency room bill?

It’s simple, really. Keep cold foods cold. Take fresh foods, especially meat and fish, straight home from the grocery store and freeze or refrigerate them promptly. That means when you’re out running errands, you leave your food shopping for last. Sure, we all want to conserve time and gasoline, but if you’re meeting a friend for lunch, have a doctor’s appointment, or need to pick up your kids from soccer practice, be sure to get it all done before you stop at the grocery store.

I also have a three-day rule. After three days in the refrigerator I either cook it or freeze it. Same with leftovers. I either freeze them or toss them out after three days. I know this may seem wasteful to some, but it simply isn’t worth taking the chance of contracting food poisoning.

Food safety is something I just don’t compromise on. It’s like Mother said, “When in doubt, throw it out.”

My tip for the day.


Bathing Tom Turkey

255One of the more “interesting” activities of preparing the traditional Thanksgiving feast is making sure the turkey is thoroughly washed and properly prepared for roasting. Turkey, like any poultry, is prone to salmonella. Salmonella is an airborne pathogen that can find its way to your turkey via improper handling at the packing house or by improper handling at your house.

Most of us buy frozen turkeys, and the best way to defrost is to put them in the refrigerator several days before the Thanksgiving meal, but sometimes unexpected things happen. If you have to do a quick defrost the best way to proceed is by filling the sink with scalding hot water and soaking the bird. You’ll probably have to repeat these steps several times over the course of a few hours, but it sure beats trying to defrost the bird in the microwave. Whichever defrosting technique you use, be sure to keep the bird covered, and the original wrapper works best. Again, salmonella can be airborne, so an uncovered turkey, or any meat for that matter, left uncovered on a countertop to defrost, is an open invitation to trouble.

Once the turkey has been completely defrosted it needs a bath. With any poultry I go on the assumption that salmonella is there, so I put it in the kitchen sink, (which by the way, needs to be cleaned and sanitized first), and I run the water over all over it. Salmonella can hide in the nooks and crannies, so be sure to wash under the wings and thighs, in the joints, and make sure to flush out the body cavity while you’re at it. Yes, this process can get a little messy, particularly if you’re washing a big turkey, so if your faucet has a spray attachment use it as it will help make the job a little easier.

Once the turkey has been completely washed it’s ready for the roaster or the fryer, or even the smoker. Be sure to wipe up any water that may have splashed on the counter tops and around the sink with a disinfectant wipe. This helps prevent cross-contamination so you don’t end up with a rather nasty, uninvited guest.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.