Where can I learn more about the dangers of harmful bacteria in poultry?
December 2, 2005 4:13 PM   Subscribe

Where can I learn more about the dangers of harmful bacteria in all kinds of poultry?

In preparation for this, I've been trying to learn all that I can about the food safety risks involved in cooking a wide variety of poultry. Unfortunately, everything I've found thus far has been very chicken-centric and really only told me a few things:
1. Don't cross contaminate
2. Cook to an internal temperature of X degrees (varies by source)
3. Avoid the "danger zone" of Y - Z degrees (also varies by source)

The main thing I'm looking for is much more detailed info about Salmonella: e.g. At what temperatures (precise range) does it thrive? What exactly does it mean for it to "thrive"? How long (really) can it stay in "the danger zone" and still be safe? Why does "the danger zone" even matter if I cook it to a safe temperature? If my meat is contaminated, how likely are people to get sick? What symptoms will they experience? Anything (other than thorough cooking) that kills it or slows it down?

Beyond that I am curious about a number of other factors, such as:
-Bird choice: Which birds are most likely to be contaminated? Which are least likely? Are there certain birds that are especially dangerous? Is an organic bird safer? A wild bird? Are different birds safe at different temperatures?
-Beyond Salmonella: What else should I be worried about (esp. in the game birds), and what are the properties of these other bacteria?
-Other precautions: Anything else I can do to minimize the risks? Does brining help/hurt? Rinsing? Drying? Wrapping tightly in plastic wrap? Leaving unwrapped in the fridge? Bringing to room temp before cooking? Sticking it in the freezer for a little while before cooking?

While I would certainly appreciate answers to my specific questions here, I'm mostly looking for suggestions of primary sources (books, reputable websites, etc.) to do further research. Thanks in advance for any help!
posted by rorycberger to Food & Drink (12 answers total)
The USDA has a Food Safety Inspection Service. Is that sort of what you're looking for?
posted by jasper411 at 4:59 PM on December 2, 2005

The cdc has a general page on Salmonella at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/salmonellosis_g.htm
If you poke around on their site you can find a much more technical data, and general food borne disease info page.
The online bacteriology textbook has a page with some good links at http://textbookofbacteriology.net/salmonella.html
posted by scodger at 5:24 PM on December 2, 2005

You may have found this already but here is a brief piece about how these safe temperatures are determined and why.

There's a lot of CYA going on with these temperatures. Govt sources err on the side of caution, perhaps factoring in incorrect thermometers, careless preparation, etc, and go with a higher temperature. Sources tailed for more savvy people go with lower temperatures (160-165).

About the "danger zone" question...some bacteria, most notably Clostridium botulinum (which is not usually associated with poultry), cause illness not so much by infecting people directly (as Salmonella and E. Coli do), but by producing a very harmful toxin that can survive even after the bacteria have been killed. This is what the "danger zone" refers to--when the food is in that zone, the bacterial may thrive and produce the toxins. The bacteria may be killed when the food heats up, but the toxins persist.

Be sure to also look into Campylobacter, another bug associated with poultry.
posted by Brian James at 5:48 PM on December 2, 2005

The two books I've got that are somewhat pertinent to your subject are Medical Microbiology (Murray et al) and VMPM 386 Pathogenic Bacteriology & Mycology (Griffith & Ross); the latter was made by course instructors for a vet microbio class, so I dunno if it'd be easy to find, but the former is a pretty standard text. Both are general, devoting only a few pages to salmonellosis, so if you’re interesting, go to your library, & read/photocopy. There should be relevant textbooks with adjacent to it on the shelf (yay Dewey!)
posted by neda at 5:51 PM on December 2, 2005

Sorta related things to your questions from my sources:

“Salmonella can colonize virtually all animals, including poultry…&c”

When you read up on salmonella transmission, make sure you’re reading about the pertinent strain. For example, while Salmonella typhi (cause of typhoid fever) can be foodborne, it’s not the one you worry about picking up from poultry (in the USA, you usually get it from a chef with poopy hands.)

Also, S. anatum is present in ducks. But again, it’s not relevant to you, as it is host specific; it causes keel disease in ducklings (they keel over when they walk). You ain’t a duck, you’re just eating one, so you’re ok.

The two big ones that are non-host adapted (i.e. can affect humans, as well as the wide range of birds you’ll be roasting) are S. typhimurium & S. enteritidis. S. enteritidis account for about 20% of reported salmonellosis, and the can be worse symptoms are worse. But it’s localized in egg yolk. So unless your recipe is calls for raw egg, you’re in the clear on this strain as well.

S. typhimurium is the one you’re worried about. As for transmission, these sources don’t have a lot on the topic. You’ll prolly have to wipe down your counter often between birds; bleach will destroy the bacteria. If everything is well roasted, in your case it won’t be your BigBirdDinner that’ll be the reservoir, it’ll be placed you touched with bird slime-y hands that you should worry about. Buy a box of disposable gloves, and change often. Wipe down your camera if you’re the person taking all the photos of this endeavor.

Oh, and if you are unlucky enough that your precautions don’t work, really all that salmonellosis gets you is a lot of crapping. “Enteritis characterized by fever, nausea, vomiting, bloody or nonbloody diarrhea, and abdominal cramps." You won’t die from it. If you’re under 5, over 60, immunocompromised, or have low stomach acidity, it’ll hit you harder. And there’s an incubation period of 1-3 days, so you can enjoy your dinner that night, and worry about getting some antibiotics to stop your runs later (unless you got a DT104 strain, oopz).

Good luck!
posted by neda at 6:01 PM on December 2, 2005

campylobacter and salmonella are the bugs to be concerned about.
posted by brandz at 7:16 PM on December 2, 2005

On Food And Cooking is a book that discusses various kinds of food poisoning, in the context of food preparation. Though it's not the primary focus, it does go into detail about various bacteria and parasites and so on and how they are killed and so on. On other topics it is also quite excellent - I recommend it in general.
posted by aubilenon at 9:32 PM on December 2, 2005

Of course, you could just kick back and listen to some bacterial propaganda courtesy of April Winchell.

Mmm, salmonella!
posted by Sallyfur at 10:28 PM on December 2, 2005

About the "danger zone" question...some bacteria, most notably Clostridium botulinum (which is not usually associated with poultry)....

So, do I not have to worry about that? I'm primarily concerned because the birds at the center of the roast will likely spend at least a few hours in the "danger zone."

Assuming that is a concern, what are the effects of that? Same as Salmonella, more or less? or more severe? there will be a few guests over 60, should I tell them to go for ham instead?

Thanks for all of the info so far, please keep it coming!
posted by rorycberger at 10:39 PM on December 2, 2005

So, do I not have to worry about that?

Nope. C. botulinum is found mostly in canned foods. And the botulism toxin actually is heat-sensitive, so if you boil/heat up your canned food it'll be fine (although heat-restant spores can survive). Effects of botulism infection, since you asked: paralysis, breathing problems, possible death. So don't eat green beans straight out of the can.

there will be a few guests over 60, should I tell them to go for ham instead?

You're preparing a ham too?!! They'll probably want a chunk of poultry monstrosity, since it's the main attraction, right? If you're really concerned for them, just serve them the stuff carved from the outer birds. Or microwave /reheat meat carved from the inner birds (until the meat is steaming is a good indication of safety).

Why does "the danger zone" even matter if I cook it to a safe temperature?

Because even if your cooking killed off the bacteria, if it gets reinfected with another source, the new bacteria will thrive at that temperature. Bacterial load doubling occurs more rapidly, and toxins are produced.

Campylobacter is sensitive to freezing (and oxygen-sensitive), so if you store your birds in the freezer, they should be ok. And the biggest source of infection in the US is milk. Poulty is of concern mainly if there's unhygenic slaughter/processing.

Sure, there's some risk involved in your undertaking, but just do your best with the standard clean kitchen routine and you'll be fine with your awesome project. Besides, the risk could be far worse.
posted by neda at 12:11 PM on December 3, 2005

What neda said...I hope you take photos of this undertaking and post them on MetaTalk!
posted by Brian James at 12:48 PM on December 3, 2005

I doubt anyone's reading this still, but thanks for all of the tips. I will indeed be taking pictures of this process as much as possible, and will post them to my new weblog: Me Hungy! [self-link]
posted by rorycberger at 2:57 PM on December 19, 2005

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