Let's talk about food safety again.

The NY Times published this essay by harold McGee: http://www.nytimes.com...
basically saying that USDA may be going a little overboard with food handling guidelines. This followed Michae Ruhlman's blog post about leaving soup on the stove for up to a week. http://ruhlman.com/2011...

The thought of all those denatured bacteria gives me the heebie-jeebies and it got me thinking: What's your rule of thumb? How long will you leave stock to sit out before you either refrigerate it or throw it away? How about other foods? Have you ever gotten sick?

  • Posted by: drbabs
  • August 24, 2011


SKK August 29, 2011
Been following the food safety conversations for awhile, and it appears the focus is off. The issue is not the chefs or the cooks, the issue is the safety of the food we buy from Cargill, Monsanto, etc.
vvvanessa August 29, 2011
as a child, i don't think i ever saw my mother-- a chinese immigrant from vietnam in the '60s-- refrigerate rice. it always sat on the stovetop in the pot it was cooked in. granted, it never sat there for more than a couple of days, but the practice still defies general american food safety protocol. i think i could probably say the same for other dishes like tomato-meat sauce and stock, but i do recall that they eventually ended up stocked in the freezer.

that said, today, when i cook for others, i'm meticulous about temperature control, personal hygeine, and cross-contamination. but i will be a lot more lax about food that only i am eating, though i wouldn't call my limits particularly daring. but yes, i'll boil and re-boil and go way beyond what would ever be acceptable in a commercial kitchen if the food is just for me.
boulangere August 28, 2011
Amen, latoscana. It really is not "wildly inconvenient" as you say to handle food with a healthy degree of intelligence.
latoscana August 28, 2011
I'm with boulangere: Kill no one! You may have a strong constitution and your kids might be toughened up, but consider whom you are feeding. I'd be cautious with very young children, the elderly, a person with a compromised immune system - these folks could become very ill from serious bacteria. I want my food to make people happy and healthy so I just don't take risks. Besides, it is not wildly inconvenient to adhere to some simple rules of sanitation and safety.
boulangere August 24, 2011
Sam1148, I think you'll be fine. Your marinade is going to create an environment inhospitable to many bacteria.
boulangere August 24, 2011
And Pierino is very right: cross-contamination is another massive food issue to be concerned about when cooking at home.
boulangere August 24, 2011
By the end of his article, Harold McGee comes back around to endorsing the fact that, while USDA rules are very conservatively written, the general practice of adequately heating AND cooling food is a very good idea. I practice at home what I practice at work. When a pot of stock comes off the stove, it gets double-strained, then I drop a couple of home-made ice paddles into it - empty club soda (no, I still haven't made up my mind about a Soda Stream) bottles filled 3/4 full with water and stored in the freezer. Pop bottles will do nicely for smaller batches. When they've done their job of quickly cooling something (stock, soup, sauce), they get rinsed and run through the dishwasher as is, then go back to the freezer. At work I'm paid to teach people how to safely handle food. The first rule of the kitchen is: Kill no one! At home I also don't want to sicken anyone, especially myself. There's bacteria and there's bacteria: stinky cheese, bring it on.
pierino August 24, 2011
Interesting conversation, I have to say. I take food safety very seriously as I have to cook for 25 to 30 people once each month. I tend not to worry about stocks too much because they will come back up to bacteria killing heat. It's actually the raw stuff such as melons where I have concern. I cooked two gigantic paellas this past weekend but the whole time, it was these ripe, seasonal melons that were on my mind which were were sliced and wrapped in top knotch prosciutto. I was only worried because melons are raw and depending on who is cleaning and handling the knife you risk cross contamination in addition to what might already be in the melon itself.
Cheese. I love cheese but my brother thinks he can't digest it. Dork. We do have enzymes swimming around in our guts that are supposed to deal with this stuff. My brother has never been to France or Italy. Bring me the stinkiest, runniest washed rind cheese you can find. Give it to me to now, please.
Sam1148 August 24, 2011
I have a looed cornish game hen recipe I want to quantify. But it has a step of leaving the cooked hens hanging to air dry for 2 hours. So, I'm not sure how well it would go over.

Basically simmering the birds in soy citrus sugar spice liquid until cooked. Then hanging to dry and finish with deep frying them just to crisp the skins.
Do you think 2 hour would still be safe? (I sometimes go more...but mostly by touch until the skin is dry).
seabirdskitchen August 24, 2011
I do a few things that are purely for safety. For example, I do use a separate board for cutting raw meat. Always wash it (bleach) between kinds of meat. But I think I am more cavalier than some when it comes to keeping things out. For example, I keep butter out all year round (my kitchen is 84 at the moment), but in a butter bell. So air doesn't get to it, but it is soft. I use iced water in the butter bell so that it stays a little closer to solid than liquid.
Some leftovers do sit out a while. No pets here. A week? probably not though. But I will keep a pot of stock on the stove (no burner on) for a couple of days if I have a long cooking spell coming up.
I am pretty careful with dairy - especially as I buy raw milk.
I too follow the "what does it smell like" philosophy. So far, touch wood, no one has gotten sick from my cooking. At least no one has been able to trace it back to me!
Niknud August 24, 2011
I am reading all these answers and am beginning to feel as if I am on the verge of giving my kids SARS or the plague or the monkey pox or something....I may have to change my wicked ways!
wssmom August 24, 2011
The thought of leaving ANYTHING on the stove for a week gives me the heebie-jeebies. He did clarify it today, saying "provided that you boil it for at least several minutes, but, according to an article in today's NYTimes by food science authority, even this is unwise. While simmering the stock will take care of bacteria, it does not kill spores, and it does not destabilize all toxins. So prudence suggests that if you leave the stock on the stove top to cool overnight, bring the stock to a simmer the next day, strain and cool it then."

Voted the Best Reply!

beyondcelery August 24, 2011
I'd like to add: I do think every kid needs to eat a pound or so of dirt by the time they're 10 to be a truly healthy adult. The current cultural obsession with hyper-cleanliness ignores the last few thousand years of human history and all the work our ancestors' immune system put into making us able to resist disease. Being too clean isn't healthy.
Melusine August 24, 2011
I've given up on steak tartare and always rinse bagged spinach really well, but I'm more casual about other things -- I'll let a tomato-based pasta sauce, chili, and such cool completely on the counter, and have been known to nibble on chicken that stayed in the oven overnight. (I have to live defensively with my two cats, and forget sometimes that I put something back in the oven to keep it out of their claws.) I have recently learned that rice is not the best thing to leave out overnight, and if I do reheat it, not more than once. Something about cooked rice being especially prone to bacteria, but having typed that -- I've eaten rice that's been out overnight forever. I am more careful overall, though, since a food writer (can't remember which one) explained that there are bugs running around now that simply didn't exist when I was 18, enjoying raw ground sirloin mixed with an egg yolk and a bit of diced onion, with tons of salt and freshly ground pepper on a buttered brotchen. Sigh.
beyondcelery August 24, 2011
I've worked enough in commercial food service to have a healthy respect for bacteria. That said, I'll still leave stock out on the stove for about 2-3 hours to cool, then refrigerate or freeze. When it's meat stock, I try to keep that time to more like 1 hour ideally. I don't use the food safety method of pouring food out into a flat pan so it's no more than 2-inches deep to cool quickly. I've never gotten sick from anything I've made--not even all the canning I do (I boil jars 10 minutes, etc.). I understand the food safety regulations as being put in place to create a nice large safety buffer between food workers who aren't being safe, smart, or following the regulations to the letter and consumers who are eating the product. I don't think regular, reasonably safety-conscious kitchens need to follow commercial regulations to stay safe.
sdebrango August 24, 2011
I always err on the side of caution, having had food poisoning twice in my life and the last time was salmonella from cross contaminated cantaloupe (It was cut and packaged at a local store) I am extra careful. Never want to be that sick again. That said like Niknud I drink egg nog made with raw eggs (I use pasteurized eggs when doing the raw thing)
AntoniaJames August 24, 2011
I typically do what McGee does with his stock, except that after straining it (once it's simmered for at least two hours with bones only, then 45 minutes max with the veggies added), I boil it hard for at least ten minutes to concentrate it. I do that for convenience, as it takes up less space in my fridge/freezer. Then I cover the pot and let the stock sit until early the next morning. I usually don't re-heat before refrigerating, but I do put it in the freezer, usually, as soon as it's gotten cold in the fridge. And whether or not I'm taking it from the fridge or the freezer, I always boil it (in the Mason jar in which it was stored) for at least a few minutes in the microwave before using it in soups, sauces and stews. I make stock at least three times a month and use it regularly in my cooking. None of us have ever gotten sick. ;o)
Niknud August 24, 2011
So I'm not saying that it's healthy or anything, but I'll taste raw meat to get the seasoning right, drink copious amounts Erma Rombauer's glorious egg-nog for a crowd (pictured to the left) which has about 8 thousand raw eggs in it (and enough booze to level a musk ox - no teatotaler THAT woman) and I have been know to leave chicken stock barely simmering for two days and then another day before I put it up. Nobody's ever gotten food poisoning in my family. And lets not forget about the wild yeasties that make the sourdough starter go..... I usually go for the smell test - if it smells bad, don't eat it. But hey, that's me.....
boulangere August 24, 2011
Soup on the stove for A WEEK?!
aargersi August 24, 2011
I have never gotten sick and I am NOT a germ-o-phobe. More like a billy goat gut. I marinate and brine counter top unless it's overnight. I let stock cool completely (so at least a couple hours) before it goes in the fridge. I travel and eat in Mexico all of the time, take basic precautions, never get sick. I think getting a few bugs in ya toughens you up!
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