Cooking Questions You Were Embarrassed to Ask

November 15, 2016

Foodborne illness can occur at any time of the year, but spikes are often seen during the  holiday season. The USDA has a meat and poultry hotline that gets especially busy during this time period. The column reports some of the questions they have received. Perhaps the responses will answer some of those questions that you have always wanted to know but were embarrassed to ask!

 Question: “I baked my pumpkin pies a few days ago and they have been sitting on the counter. Are they ok to eat?” Answer: Foods made with eggs and milk must first be safely baked to a minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees. Then they should be cooled and then refrigerated. You would be taking a chance if you eat these pies. Follow-up question: Why are stores in the bakery section of the supermarket not refrigerated? Answer: These pies are formulated with shelf-stable ingredients, such as preservatives, that prevent harmful bacteria from growing.  Commercial pies must be properly labeled, “approved by the Food and Drug Administration”. They will carry the letters “RT”, which means they meet the guidelines required for display at room temperature. The label will also give a “sell by” or “use by” date. Even these pies should be refrigerated for storage at home especially after they have been cut. (University of Florida Extension Service)

 Question: “I discovered I cooked the turkey with the package of giblets still inside. Are the turkey and giblets safe to eat?” Answer: If giblets were left in the cavity during roasting, even though this is not recommended, the turkey and giblets are probably safe to use. However, if the packaging containing the giblets has changed shape or melted in any way during cooking, do not use the giblets or the turkey because harmful chemicals from the packaging may have penetrated the surrounding meat.

 Question: “I woke up and discovered that I left the pork roast out all night. I took it out of the freezer to thaw for awhile last night and forgot to put it back in the refrigerator before I went to bed. It is completely thawed and warm to the touch. If I cook it, will it be safe to eat?” Answer: Unfortunately this roast should not be eaten. It has been out of refrigeration too long.

 Question: “I purchased a fresh stuffed turkey from my local grocery store in the deli department. One of my guest said it’s not safe to eat. Is she right?” Answer: Yes, she’s right. USDA recommends discarding it or returning the product to the store where purchased. You should only buy pre-stuffed turkeys that display the USDA or State mark of inspection on the packaging.

 Question: “ I put a 20lb turkey in the a 200 degree oven before I went to bed last night and the pop-up time says it’s already done at 7:30 this morning. We are not eating until 3:00 p.m. What should I do?” Answer: Overnight cooking of meat at a low temperature isn’t a safe method so we don’t recommend eating this turkey. Secondly, holding a properly cooked turkey for this long at a safe internal temperature of 140 degrees or above for such a long time as this will dry it out and affect the quality of the meat. If this turkey had been cooked properly and was safe to eat, the best way to hold it for all those hours would be to carve it and refrigerate it in covered shallow containers. It could then be served cold or reheated to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

 Question: "I roasted my holiday turkey yesterday and put it in the refrigerator. It isn't stuffed so I thought it was safe. Then my daughter said I shouldn't have refrigerated it whole. Is it safe to eat today?"Answer: We do not recommend you refrigerate a cooked turkey whole — it could take too long to cool down to a safe temperature. For optimal safety, cut whole or large pieces of poultry into small pieces. It's okay to leave the drumsticks, thighs and wings intact, if you prefer. Refrigerate in covered shallow containers within 2 hours of cooking. This is very important to ensure rapid, even cooling and quick reheating.

 For most people who experience foodborne illness, while it is painful, disruptive and overall “not-nice” experience, healthy people usually recover from it without much residual “damage.” However, for the elderly, the young and those with a chronic illness, it can have devastating consequences. Don’t take chances with your family and guests. Follow food safety rules. For more questions and answers like those above and a packet on food safety, District residents can call QVHD, 248-4528 or request on line, www.qvhd.org  You can also contact the USDA Meat and Poultry line directly at 1-888-674-6854 or email them at mphotline.fsis@usda.gov