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|May 14-20, 2009
• Balanced nature
Healing Tea goes well beyond a soothing cup
by Clay Fong
• The Dessert Diva
A local chef shares her sweet secrets
by Danette Randall
Keep bacteria off the menu
Practice safe cooking this summer
by Chris Macias
Thinking about that slab of tuna just about makes Che Perez’s stomach turn. The 40-year-old Web designer remembers a scorching July day many summers ago and a barbecue at his cousin’s house.
The cookout was more like ground zero for gastrointestinal distress.
“It was a good 20-minute drive to the house, and even with the air conditioner on, the sun was beating down on my fresh tuna,” says Perez.
“When I got there, I just threw the fish on the barbecue and cooked it medium, or medium-rare. It was delicious, but about 30 minutes later I started throwing up violently.”
We’ll spare the rest of the gory details, but let’s just say Perez learned his lesson: Keep your fresh fish on ice when driving to a cookout.
These sorts of food-safety reminders are in order as the outdoor grilling season kicks into gear. Perez, of Sacramento, Calif., is the kind of guy who grills two to three days a week, rain or shine.
But you’ve got to be careful behind that barbecue grill or in the kitchen.
Food-safety experts have found that one in four people gets sick each year from a foodborne illness. The effects can sometimes turn deadly.
Ingest a strain of E. coli 0157:H7, found in contaminated produce, ground beef and other animal products, and the result could be kidney failure or death.
The good news: Properly handling and cooking food can significantly reduce the risk of catching some nasty foodborne illness, along with keeping pesticides and chemicals off our plates.
Here are some food-safety tips compiled from experts at the University of California-Davis, and other sources:
Don’t expect to see rare meat when Christine Bruhn bites into a hamburger. She researches food safety and consumer issues at University of California at Davis’ Department of Food Science and Technology, and she knows it doesn’t take much undercooked ground beef to make a person seriously sick.
“Just 10 cells of E. coli can send a person to the hospital,” says Bruhn. “Life’s too precious to spend hours bent over the toilet, or worse.”
Here are some tips from Bruhn to keep in mind during your cookouts:
—Be careful of cross-contamination: “Some people use the same plate to carry both the raw and cooked [food]. People might rinse the plate, but those bacteria are still there. Water is not enough. You need a clean plate.”
Same goes for that burger-flipping spatula. Don’t risk using it to load raw burgers — and then to remove the cooked ones. Either keep two handy or thoroughly clean the one that has touched the raw meat.
—Don’t use color as a guideline for doneness: “Many believe that meat is done when it turns brown. Color is not an adequate indicator of the thoroughness of cooking. One out of four burgers turn brown before they reach 160 degrees, which is the recommended temperature.”
—Invest in a cooking thermometer and use it: “Most people don’t want to take the temperature of a hamburger because they think it’s too much work. My graduate student is doing a project watching people prepare burgers, and none of them used a thermometer.
They say, ‘Oh, it’s ready,’ but a third of the burgers had not reached the proper temperature.”
—Rare steak is OK, but make sure the meat’s surface is seared: “Steak is different than ground beef. With steak, the bacteria is on the surface and on the edges. So if you just sear it, you’re [killing] the bacteria. With ground beef, since it’s all ground and mixed up, what used to be on the surface is now on the inside.”
—Eat charred food in moderation: “Grilled veggies are so yummy and you get some of those burnt parts that taste so good. But eating too much charred food is bad. Some chemicals, eaten in sufficient quantities, can be carcinogenic. That’s still eating it a lot, every day. A little charring on burgers is OK. The buildup will be low, and you will naturally remove those toxins.”
Internal temperature chart
Ground meat and meat mixtures:
—Beef, pork, veal, lamb: 160 degrees
—Turkey, chicken: 165 degrees
Fresh beef, veal, lamb:
—Medium-rare: 145 degrees
—Medium: 160 degrees
—Well done: 170 degrees
—Medium: 160 degrees
—Well done: 170 degrees
Source: University of California and United States Department of Agriculture
In the kitchen
Finally, let’s head into the kitchen and check some food-safety strategies for this favorite room. The kitchen can be a hotbed for bacteria, so UC-Davis’ Bruhn has some safety tips.
—Don’t overlook that filthy faucet: “If you’ve got bacteria on your hands and touch the faucet, and then you [wash your hands] and touch the faucet again, then whoops! You’ve just reintroduced the bacteria on your hands. People forget about taking care of that faucet.”
—Keep your refrigerator at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder: “40 to 140 degrees is the ‘hot zone’ for bacteria to grow. I recommend that people buy a refrigerator thermometer. If you’re watching your pennies, have the fridge so cold that any colder and your lettuce would freeze. You should err on the side of being too cold.”
—MCT/The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.). Visit The Sacramento Bee online at http://www.sacbee.com/
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