Head for the holidays
December 28, 2008 8:56 PM   Subscribe

How long could one expect a human head to stay "fresh" in a typical hotel mini-fridge?

I have a highly active imagination and I'm in a somewhat sketchy hotel in the middle of Pennsylvania. I'm also loopy after 10 hours of driving. My eyes wandered to the mini-fridge and I convinced myself that there was a human head in there. Since the maid didn't do a terribly good job cleaning the room, it's not too far a stretch to assume that they didn't check the fridge. I eventually got myself to open the fridge, and of course, there was no head. This had me thinking: if someone WERE to put a freshly removed human head, how long would it "keep" in a functioning mini-fridge?

Note: I have no intention of acquiring a human head and putting it in a fridge, not have I ever done this before. I am just curious (and it may be leading into a creepy story idea).
posted by Cat Pie Hurts to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It isn't fresh to begin with. Tonsils, for example, are full of horrid bacterial cess. I guess I'm assuming "freshness" is a property of edibility, and not merely aesthetic.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:21 PM on December 28, 2008

But really, we need a better definition of "keep." Does this mean it is still safe to cook and eat (the usual standard of "keeping" for meats,) or does it just mean that it's not stinking up the room and/or visibly decaying?
posted by contraption at 9:21 PM on December 28, 2008

Depends on the temperature. The lower the fresher longer.
posted by telstar at 9:23 PM on December 28, 2008

You know, I hadn't considered edibility. I was focusing on odor. So, "keep" = lack of discernable odor external to the fridge assuming that the fridge does not lose power and the seals remain functional.

Strangely enough, I have a frozen, half gnawed hambone in the trunk of my car. I'm planning on making soup when I get home.

Oh, and mumstheword: it takes a lot to creep me out. I owe you a pie or something.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 9:26 PM on December 28, 2008

This all depends on your standards of "keep." If you're going for the whole Alcor cryonics thing, the answer is "not at all," as they could neither bring the temperature down quickly enough nor keep it low enough to stop the various bits of entropy from erasing those precious synaptic connections.

If you're planning on, say, transplanting the head onto the body of something else, if you had an external method of cooling the head down rapidly (they are pretty big) by circulating a kind of antifreeze through the veins, you could probably keep it for a few hours to latch onto your latest creation.

For the long term, though, in most of the hotels I stay in, they have half-height fridges, rather than the itty bitty "footstool" bridges. The half-height fridges were perfectly capable of bringing water to the freezing point and below when cranked up to "high." From the standard of rotting, as long as you have a fridge that gets that cold, presumably you could have a human head or any other meat in there (preferably wrapped) that would stay frozen solid for a while. So then your standard of freshness is just like any piece of meat in a deep freezer. Although the electrolytes in the blood would probably lower the freezing point, just a tad, to about 31 F. I'm not sure about the vitreous humor, but I think you could freeze a head solid.

Note, this would keep severed heads, which keep talking and talking from moving their jaws, but that doesn't stop their voices from getting into your head. That's what the elaborate runes on the fridge door are for. Word to the wise, do that first, because poking out your eardrums with a hotel icepick doesn't help shut them up from their endless diatribes about your guilt and how worthless you are.
posted by adipocere at 9:30 PM on December 28, 2008 [9 favorites]

A hotel fridge really isn't cold enough for head storage. You'd want a fridge that gets down to about 38 degrees F. And put some sort of desiccant in there to wick away extra moisture. Also, don't keep opening the door over and over again. Sure, it scares the housekeeping staff, but it also exposes the head to fresh bacteria and moisture and raises the internal temperature.
posted by ColdChef at 9:30 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Just keep searching for the word head in this, it will give you all the info you need on processing your head (pig should be a reasonable analog). Right off the bat you'll see that it would benefit by a night in the brine crock, but putting that aside, if you don't know the temperature your mini fridge can attain any answer to your question is completely arbitrary. My experience with hotel amenities is that a lot of their mini fridges do not get cold enough to keep uncured meat for very long: it would be stinking within a day. The things are not exactly hermetically sealed. There are all sorts of other questions, I mean, was the thing thoroughly drained of blood or is it, like, sitting in a pan of gore in there. That makes a difference. Wrapped or unwrapped? Was it washed? I'd give it five days on the outside, more likely an unavoidable stench within 2-3 days.
posted by nanojath at 9:31 PM on December 28, 2008

I think this is where the lobby ice machine comes in handy. Place the head in a waste basket, pack with ice, and viola!
posted by SPrintF at 9:46 PM on December 28, 2008

Swine are often used to simulate human tissue and physiology in a variety of medical experiments, and I'm supposing that if a head is good enough to eat, it's good enough to keep. So let's take a look at the scientific literature and some classic cooking methods.

[Hygienic aspects of pig's head meat. 2. Mechanical separation of pigs' heads] " ... These studies served to verify the fact that mechanical separation of pigs' heads is technically possible. Previous dipping of the heads in water at a temperature of 100 degrees C produced a considerable improvement of the yield in meat, which was due to setting of the rind. The chemical composition of the product was roughly identical with that of manually obtained head meat. However, tissue composition and structure of the tissues differed markedly. An important drawback is the higher count of Enterobacteriaceae in the product. These bacteria are probably released on compression from sites which are difficult of access such as the nose, the pharyngeal cavity and the alveoli. In addition, they may be possibly protected by a covering layer of mucus. Therefore, mechanical separation is not regarded as acceptable from the point of view of hygiene." So, if you try to mechanically remove the meat from the head, it could spoil very quickly. However, you probably could leave the head whole and cook it whole after a somewhat longer storage process as long as the head wasn't traumatized in the act of decapitation. If you really want to remove the meat from the skull, the only safe way to do it is by hand.

I bought a pig's head today (not for sensitive readers): "If you brine for 48 to 72 hours, then she suggests boiling the pig head and draining to remove excess salt, then proceed with the recipe. ..." An intact head should be good for at least another 48 hours if you brine, although it's still unclear how long it would last if refrigerated but unbrined. If you're going to brine the head, do so in the mini fridge, or try Alton Brown's cooler trick for brining turkeys.

Offal Good: Let them eat pig's head!
: "Then season both sides of the pigs head with salt, black pepper, garlic, rosemary with chili flakes and lemon zest. let it marinate for 2 days in the fridge then roll it up and tie it tight. Place it in a sous vide bag with some herbs and garlic and cook. Remove form the water and drop it in a ice bath and let it set for 2 days." You're now up to almost 5 days total: 2 days of fridge-temperature marinating, 14 hours of sous-vide braising, and 2 days in an ice bath.
posted by maudlin at 9:50 PM on December 28, 2008

[Question reconsidered, clemency granted. Please keep answers on the level and constructive, folks.]
posted by cortex at 7:35 AM on December 29, 2008

My experience with hotel room mini-fridges is that a good number of them are unplugged to conserve energy, so you'd be well advised to make sure the thing is plugged in and operating before putting anything in there.

(Yes, you'd know as soon as you opened it if it was running or not... but you might think it was broken unless you checked to see if it was plugged in. I called the front desk in one place to complain but they said to check the plug. Sure enough! Just a... head's up.)
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 8:38 AM on December 29, 2008

In my experience with hotel room mini-fridges - they barely function enough to chill drinks, let alone raw meat. My guess would be about 3-4 days before the smell would begin to leak out.
posted by jkaczor at 11:21 AM on December 29, 2008

Interesting question...I think SPrintF has the right idea, pack it in ice in a waste basket.

Also, it's common knowledge that you don't put heads in the refrigerator, you put them in the crisper. Jeez.
posted by motown missile at 9:17 PM on December 29, 2008

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