A previous post
generated several responses, but this is too big to post as a response.
So it's a blog post on its own.
I have been asking Health Canada politely for a decade how they determine consumer recommendations for preparing poultry. What is the best way to thaw poultry? How do they determine the safe end-point internal temperature? What references do they use? (This discussion, like the original Health Canada press release, is specific to consumer practices in the home, not in food service).
I've never received an answer.
So when Health Canada issues press releases saying consumers should do this and not do this, I wonder, what is that based on?
In the U.S. in 2006, the recommended end-point cooking temperature for all poultry was lowered to 165F from the previous 180F. This was based on recommendations by the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods. Where the 180F recommendation came from , no one really knows. Diane Van, manager of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Meat and Poultry Hotline, was quoted as saying in a Nov. 2006 L.A. Times story
about the old 180F advice, "I've looked all over and I really have no idea. I think it happened sometime back in the 1980s, but I don't know what it was based on."
At least that's honest.
In Canada, the Health Canada recommendation for whole poultry is 185F. How was that temperature decided? Are there peer-reviewed journal articles that were used to develop that recommendation? Do bacteria behave differently north of the 49th parallel?
Health Canada says in its Canadian Thanksgiving press release
that consumers should,Use a food thermometer, and cook turkey until the temperature of the thickest part of the breast or thigh is at least 85ºC (185ºF).
A Health Canada press release
dated June 21, 2007 says,
Traditional visual cues like colour are not a guarantee that food is safe. Don't guess! (Use) a digital instant-read food thermometer to check when meat and poultry are safe to eat.
Yet a search of the Health Canada website today
brought up a suggested dinner recipe that says,Hot and spicy! Cook boneless chicken strips in a skillet until juices run clear and meat is browned.
Given such inconsistencies, and the utter lack of accountability, why would consumers be expected to blindly follow what some governmental agency proclaims?
Twenty dollars is too much to view the thawing recommendatinos paper. It's below. I can e-mail it as an attachment if you contact me directly. I'll respond to the questions about staph in another post.
And in the Sunflower Bowl this afternoon, Kansas State (ranked 24, but not for long) lost to University of Kansas 30-24.
Lacroix BJ, Li KW, Powell DA. 2003. Consumer food handling recommendations: is thawing of turkey a food safety issue? Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research, 64(2): 59-61.
Comparison of findings for thawing turkey and consumer food handling recommendations: is thawing of turkey a food safety issue?
Lacroix, B. J., Li, K.W.M. and Powell, D.A.
While it is important that dietitians and other health or food professionals provide consistent messages to the public about food safety, it is equally important that the information be evidence-based. Conflicting recommendations are evident when both consumer publications from food safety advisory groups and the scientific literature are reviewed. In addition, there are caveats attached to the various methods. The presence of pathogens, spoilage microorganisms and contamination of the work area are the major concerns in thawing turkey. While several methods including thawing on the counter at ambient temperatures can be employed for thawing turkey, however, it is adequate cooking, validated with a meat thermometer, that is the more critical step. Based on these findings, it is difficult for food and health professionals to provide clients or consumers with clear, consistent, evidence-based messages. Further research is required to corroborate best practices in a kitchen setting. This paper is of interest to professionals who counsel clients at high-risk for foodborne illness or consumers about safe preparation of foods such as turkey
Comparison of findings for thawing turkey to consumer food handling recommendations: Is thawing of turkey a safety issue?
Inadequate thawing of turkeys, coupled with undercooking was found to be an important factor in many salmonellosis outbreaks (1). Health Canada reports 10,000 - 30,000 actual cases annually of foodborne illness with an estimated number of two million (2, 3). Confounding these estimates is underreporting - acknowledged to be as many 100 unreported cases for each one reported (4). Because Canadians purportedly eat turkey more than once a month (5), there is the potential for mishandling. Canadians also vary in what is deemed safe: in a 1998 study (6), most (87%) thought that thawing turkey in the refrigerator was safe while 5% thought it unsafe and another 57% considered thawing at room temperature to be an unsafe practice while 29% considered it safe.
Pathogens, spoilage microorganisms and contamination of the food preparation area are the major food safety concerns. There are six methods of thawing, each with it’s own caveat. (Due to space restrictions, not all methods are discussed).
The purpose of this report is to document inconsistencies in home thawing recommendations for turkey and refute the importance placed on these recommendations.
Food Safety Issues
Pathogenic microorganisms associated with turkey include salmonella, campylobacter, staphylococcus and Listeria (7); however, thorough cooking eliminates most pathogens (1). While not expected to grow in raw turkey (1, 8, 9), staphylococcus when present is generally the consequence of handling by an infected person and illness results because heating will not destroy toxins produced (9). Clostridium perfringens may be of concern because spores, if present in the dressing can survive roasting temperatures and their outgrowth in mishandled stuffing and meat cause foodborne illness (10).
In 1968, the United States Department of Agriculture (11) concluded that ambient air temperature thawing was satisfactory as long as precautions were taken (which were not stated). Beneficial effects of insulating overwraps were also noted. Lee (1) recommended that smaller turkeys, 4.7 kg (10 lb), be thawed at room temperature 23-27ºC (73-80ºF) on the counter no more than 12 hours and a maximum of 18 hours for 11.9 kg (26 lb) turkeys. Even better results were achieved when turkeys were wrapped in 8 sheets of newspaper for 18-20 hours on the counter. The Argentinean experience concluded that thawing chickens at ambient temperatures of 22ºC (72ºF) for 14 hours or less (to an internal temperature of 4.4ºC/40ºF, 3.5 cm/11/3 in. within the breast) was a safe procedure (12).
A longer time is required to thaw turkeys in the refrigerator where the temperatures may vary (12). Consequently, growth of pseudomonas spoilage bacteria (12) causing changes in odour, texture, colour and sliminess may result (9). The possibility of such changes is greater if other directions suggesting 26-33 hours/kg (12-15 hours/lb) for meat/poultry were followed (13).
A further concern is bringing pathogenic microorganisms into the kitchen that could lead to contamination of surfaces (1) and further cross contamination.
Lee (1) stated that thorough cooking of an unstuffed turkey to 82ºC/180ºF should result in little risk if thawing was complete as any pathogenic vegetative cells present would be destroyed, as well as make it esthetically pleasing. It is presumed that the thawed turkeys will most likely be roasted in an oven.
The current recommendations on thawing poultry developed by different agencies in Canada are similar (5, 13, 14), in that they adamantly state not to thaw at room temperature, (and comment to cook immediately if thawed in the microwave). It is not clear whether these recommendations are based on scientific data or simply someone’s best guess as no references are provided.
Recommended methods such as the use of standing water (5, 14, 15) have not been tested, and the experimental method of running water (1, 12) is not generally recommended in Canada although it is mentioned for “a more rapid thaw” (13), rather than a tested method. However, no one has addressed the large volumes of running water used or the contaminated wastewater that results.
This paper briefly summarizes the literature currently available for in-home thawing of poultry (1, 11, 12). The studies cautioned about drawing conclusions from direct comparisons because of small sample sizes - often only a single bird per treatment.
As the justification for current thawing recommendations appears inadequate, the question becomes is the emphasis on thawing turkey at refrigerator temperatures warranted. Providing the caveats have been heeded, the need is to cook turkey thoroughly and validate with a meat thermometer. If not completely thawed prior to cooking, adequate end-point temperatures for safety will not be reached within the recommended time given for roasting thawed or fresh turkey. Further, recommended endpoint temperatures vary (1, 8, 14), as do the locations for taking the temperature, all of which may cause confusion for consumers. There is no information available on how long to cook partially thawed turkey. However, partial cooking of turkey is to be avoided under all circumstances as this could provide ideal conditions for pathogen growth. Further research is necessary to validate best practices in a home kitchen setting. Based on these findings, it is difficult for food and health professionals to provide clients or consumers with clear, consistent, evidence-based messages.
Relevance to practice
Turkey, a delicious and nutritious low-fat food choice recommended by many dietitians (10, 16), need not be the source of foodborne illness if handled properly and cooked adequately. Dietitians in the role of highly credible educators on issues related to food and water safety (17) need to emphasize the use of a meat thermometer to validate temperatures for various foods. Because of the extent of conflicting information dietitians should make it a priority to work with various stakeholders to develop and validate best practices for handling foods such as turkey safely. In future, greater emphasis should be placed on the time-temperature relationships in thawing rather than the place thawed. In order to provide consumers with clear, consistent information based on science, additional evidence is needed for alternative thawing methods, dealing with partially thawed turkey, thermometer placement within the turkey, consistent endpoint temperatures and the estimated times to reach them.
Methods of thawing poultry at home
1) at ambient temperatures on the counter without an overwrap
2) on the counter with an overwrap (or paper bag)
3) in the refrigerator
4) under running water
5) in standing water and changing the water at various intervals
6) in the microwave
1. Lee M. Methods and Risks of Defrosting Turkeys. Environ. Health Rev. 1993;(Winter):96-100.
2. Health Canada. Health Canada Policy - Food Safety Assessment Program. Available from http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/food-aliment/fsa-esa/e_policy.html; accessed 13 April 2002.
3. Health Canada. Policy Development for Raw Foods of Animal Origin.. Available from http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/food-aliment/mh-dm/mhe-dme/rfao-aoca/e_rfao.html; accessed 13 April 2002.
4. Farber JM, Todd ECD. Safe Handling of Foods. New York: Marcel Dekker; 2000. 552p.
5. The Canadian Turkey Marketing Agency. How to thaw and prepare…/Did you know... Available from http://www.turkeytuesdays.ca: accessed 13 April 2002.
6. Canadian Food Inspection Agency. 1998 Safe Food Handling Study, a Report for Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Environics Research Group Limited. Available from http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/corpaffr/publications/1998environics/study_texte.shtml; accessed 13 April 2002.
7. Consumer Education and Information. Food Safety of Turkey ... from Farm to Table. Food Safety Inspection Service, United States Department of Agriculture. Available from http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OA/pubs/focustky.htm; accessed 13 April 2002.
8. Snyder OP. HACCP and slow-roasting turkeys. Hospitality Institute of Technology and Management (HITM). Available from http://www.hi-tm.com/Documents/Turkey.html; accessed 13 April 2002.
9. Ray B. Fundamental Food Microbiology. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press; 1996. 516p.
10. Eckner KF, Zottola EA, Gravani RB. The microbiology of slow-roasted, stuffed turkeys. Dairy Food Sanit.1988;8(7):344-7.
11. Klose AA, Lineweaver H, Palmer HH. Thawing Turkeys at Ambient Air Temperatures. Food tech 1968;22:108-12.
12. Jimenez SM, Pirovani ME, Salsi MS, Tiburzi MC, Snyder OP. The Effect of Different Thawing Methods on the Growth of Bacteria in Chicken. Dairyfood environ sanit 2000;20(9):678-83.
13. Canadian Partnership For Consumer Food Safety Education. Fight BAC! Go to Consumer Centre, Tools. 1998. Available from http://www.canfightbac.org/english/class/chilloute.shtml; accessed 13 April 2002. Copies of the Chill Out brochure can also be ordered from the Beef Information Centre from http://www.beefinfo.org, accessed 13 April 2002.
14. Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Food Safety Facts for Turkey. Available from http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/corpaffr/foodfacts/turkeye.shtml: accessed 13 April 2002.
15. It’s your health. Let's Talk Turkey. Health! Canada Magazine December, 2000. Also available from http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/food-aliment/mh-dm/iyh-avs/e_let_s_talk_turkey.html; accessed 13 April 2002.
16. Manitoba Turkey Producers. Nutrition. Available from http://www.turkey.mb.ca/nutrition.html; accessed 29 May 2002.
17. Ingham S, Thies ML. Food and Water Safety - Position of ADA. J Am Diet Assoc 1997;97:184-9. Available from http://www.eatright.com/adap0297.html; accessed 13 April 2002.