Jumping Into Food Safety, or “SPLOOSH!”

Back in this post about pots and pans, reader Mike asked a question about the safety of canned goods after they’d been in the pantry a good long time. I replied with a link to this site from home-canning equipment manufacturers Ball and Kerr, which states, “Food that has been properly canned using an up-to-date tested recipe and that has a vacuum seal will keep indefinitely; however, over an extended period of time changes do occur. These changes may affect the flavor, color, texture and nutritional value of the product. For the highest quality, use home canned food within one year.”

I’m reminded of the movie Holes. In this film, the character of Zero has been surviving on what he calls “sploosh”, which is peaches that were canned decades before by a handyman named Sam. Zero breaks the top off another jar and shares it with Stanley, aka “Caveman”, who mentions how good it is.

I always cringe during that scene. Zero just plain busts the top of that jar on the inside of the inverted wooden boat he and Caveman have crawled under, where Zero had found the sploosh, and then hands the busted jar to Caveman to drink out of. All that broken glass, all through the top of the sploosh. That part’s never brought up. I always expect Caveman to choke, bringing up little bloody shards of glass and spitting them to the ground …

Still, the character of Sam is presented in such a way that I would have no trouble trusting his canning methodologies and trying his decades-old peaches. I imagine they’d be mighty tasty. Here, Zero, I’ll try some. Err … what? Uh, no thanks, I’ll open it myself.

The whole subject of food safety has been in the news a lot lately, from mad cow disease to the various e-coli outbreaks in bags of baby spinach and at Taco Bell restaurants. What can you do? Do you go to extremes, not going to restaurants unless you’ve devoured their inspection reports first, sending chicken back if it’s a little bit pink, only buying fruits and vegetables when you know exactly where they came from and under what circumstances?

C’mon, gimme a break.

The definition of food safety in the food service industry itself is a certification from the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation called ServSafe. Having a ServSafe certification can actually increase pay for someone working in the foodservice industry. It’s a good thing for everyone.

Let’s talk chicken this time. I know, a fowl subject indeed … We go now to one of the masters of cooking, Chef Anthony Bourdain of Les Halles on Park Avenue in New York City, also A Cook’s Tour on Food Network and No Reservations on the Travel Channel. In his Les Halles cookbook he writes:

Most people think that if you just scatter some salt and pepper and, God forbid, paprika on a chicken, then throw him, legs askew, into an oven and cook every bit of blood and moisture out of him — that that’s roasting a chicken. Hell, most people figure that if the crispy skin tastes good, and there’s no yucky blood or pink stuff near the bone, that’s a fine roast chicken … Chicken should taste like chicken. Understand also that legs and breasts cook at different rates. In your zeal to make sure that there is no pink (eek!) or red (oooohh!) anywhere in the legs, you are often criminally overcooking your breasts. Find a happy medium. A little pink color by the thigh bone does not necessarily mean you are eating rare poultry.

Wait, what did he say?? Did this world-renowned Chef just say chicken can be … pink???

Well, yes, he did. Imagine that. I know, I know, your grandmother would simply keel over at the thought. Both of mine would, too.

What’s the key to safe chicken? Rinse it?? Umm, no, that’s not it. Bacteria like to swim. Rinsing only moves them around without getting rid of them. I’m not ServSafe certified (maybe at some point this year), but I have a copy of the coursebook right here. Let’s see, rinsing chicken, rinsing … chicken … poultry … nope, rinsing ain’t in there.

This here ServSafe book says to cook chicken to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) for 15 seconds. For his roast chicken or “poulet roti”, Chef Tony simply gives oven temps and specific timings, and then says, “If you’re worried about undercooking, with the point of a small knife or with a skewer or cake tester, you can poke the fat part of the thigh. If the liquid that runs out is clear — not pink or red — your bird is cooked.”

No, he never mentions rinsing chicken either.

We were watching No Reservations on the Travel Channel the other day and Chef Tony was making stuffed boar, of which the boar meat had been flattened, stuffing spread out on it, then the whole of it rolled and tied. Holding the raw package he gave the temps and timings for cooking, then said, “and cook it to an internal temperature of … [pauses for effect, looks into the camera lens] … pretty damn hot.”

Internal temperature? Yeah, you know those plastic pop-up thingies on turkeys and roasting chickens? The bottom end is checking the internal temperature of the bird. When the temp the thingy is built for is reached, which should be 165°F (74°C) for whole roast chicken, up it pops.

So how do people like Chef Tony check this? And how do they get medium-rare beef right every stinkin’ time? How can you do this at home??

Get yourself a decent meat thermometer. For 5 bucks at Meijer or GFS Marketplace, or even Kroger, you can get a professional-grade instant-read thermometer like the Taylor #3621N that will fit in your pocket. You can stick this, one like it, or one of its digital counterparts in anything to make sure it’s at the right temp.

Yeah, I know, that last link says to cook whole poultry to a minimum internal temp of 180°F. This here ServSafe book is an older version.

Me, I use my instant-read thermometer on just about every piece of meat I cook outside hamburger and sausages. But when it comes to roast chicken, I’ll trust Chef Tony.

Sorry, Grandma.

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