You Don’t Want a Side of Salmonella with that Burger..or for that matter, with your Turkey either!

Were you shocked to hear of a turkey recall just days before Thanksgiving?

Contributed by Guest Blogger and BGSU Intern, Sheren Dari (who survived hosting her 1st Thanksgiving)

If yes, then you were not alone. Turkey stars in thousands of shows over the Thanksgiving season. Fortunately, it was not whole turkeys that were recalled but rather ground turkey. Thank goodness!  I was hosting the feast for the first time this year and all I could imagine was loading a partially defrosted 24 pounder into the car, driving back to the grocer and standing in line with a bunch of other dripping turkeys.  What if they were out of replacements? It’s not like I could serve up a big salad to accompany the mashed potatoes and gravy…there were no lettuce on the shelves as once romaine was removed (due to yet another recall) other shoppers had bought most of the remaining greens. Yes, you read that right; people were buying kale for Thanksgiving.

Why Ground Meat?

The “whole” situation made me wonder: why is it that ground meats are more susceptible to bacterial contamination than whole cuts of meat? There are several reasons :

·      First, ground foods may combine product from several different animals whereas whole cuts come from one animal.  More animals = more potential chance of contamination.

·      Second the interior/exterior architecture is very different between the two products.  Whole meats are smooth, mainly intact.  Whereas with ground meats the total surface area, the outside or exterior real estate, is greater than that of whole cuts of meat.  So it is more exposed and, because of its pebbly texture, there are more crevices for germs to hide.  If a pathogen, like e-coli or salmonella,  is present on whole cuts, it is usually on the surface, whereas in ground meat pathogens get mixed into the inside.

·      Which leads us to the third reason: preparation. To kill e-coli, a temperature of 160 to 165°F is required.  A whole, bone in rib eye: only the exterior needs to meet that criterion, medium rare is acceptable as well as savory. That same beef ground into a burger? Cook until medium when the thermometer reads 160 degrees.

What to do?

Once I did my research and answered my own questions, my thoughts turned to how do I minimize my chances of consuming contaminated meat?  Here’s what I suggest:
·      When you are at the store, make ground meat one of the last items to stash in your shopping cart and choose a package that feels cold and is not torn. Place the package in a plastic bag to avoid it leaking on other foods.

·      If you don’t plan to cook the ground meat the same day, cook or refreeze within 1 or 2 days.

·      When thawing ground meat, be sure to thaw in the refrigerator to prevent the growth of bacteria.  

·      Oh, and to make life easy… use a quick read thermometer. Keepsafe Food has tested many and recommends this easy to use thermometer kit.