Delicious Meal or Bacteria Party?
September 26, 2005 1:14 PM   Subscribe

Will I get sick from eating this? In an attempt to eat healthier, I broke out the crock pot last night and filled it with raw vegetables and raw chicken, in preparation for a day of slow cooking all day today.

However, today I learned that you're very much not supposed to store raw veg & raw chicken together in the fridge overnight, and now I know better than to do it again.

But I've had chicken and vegetables cooking in Cream of Chicken soup all day, and after 10 hours of cooking it should all be at a safe temperature. My apartment smells heavenly and we're hungry. Are we asking for a world of hurt if we eat this?

I'm annoyed at myself because I never plan ahead. The one time I do, I do it all wrong. Grr!
posted by catfood to Food & Drink (37 answers total)
Best answer: Personally, I think you're pretty safe. Every part of what you've made has been cooked thoroughly for 10 hours. Anything that would have thrived in the fridge is well and truly dead.

However, I am no expert. I just know that I would sit down and eat it, as I have in the past without problem.
posted by Kickstart70 at 1:17 PM on September 26, 2005

The mixture has been boiling for 10 hours, unless you live on top of Everest, I'd say there is little that is living in there that will harm you.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:17 PM on September 26, 2005

Response by poster: That's what I thought, but then why do so many people warn against doing this? It makes life so much easier.
posted by catfood at 1:19 PM on September 26, 2005

Both the chicken and vegetables are cooked? Then what does it matter if they touch each other? I've never heard this rule if you're going to later cook both.

The BBC agrees, I think. I cannot see why 99.9% of bacteria wouldn't be killed by 10 hours of cooking.
posted by geoff. at 1:20 PM on September 26, 2005

Who warned you? We use a slow cooker quite often and have never had problems.
posted by Kickstart70 at 1:21 PM on September 26, 2005

Catfood I think the rule applies if you're going to keep the vegetables raw and the chicken (later to be cooked) is stored in there.

Even so washing vegetables should solve the problem.
posted by geoff. at 1:21 PM on September 26, 2005

You should brown the chicken before you put it in the crockpot, you damn heathen. As for its safety, you should be fine; the chicken and vegetables have probably reached 170-190°F.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:24 PM on September 26, 2005

Best answer: The problem is that bacteria living on the raw chicken flesh can eat the sugars in the plant material, using them for fuel, to multiply. I agree that in the refrigerator, overnight, not very much bacterial growth is likely to occur; but if the veg was warm when you put them in, some could have occurred.

After the bacterial growth has occurred, killing the bacteria is not adequate to solve the problem; endotoxins and exotoxins, once formed, are not always destroyed by heat. You would not find rotten food safe to eat simply because you had microwaved it to 400 degrees; this is why. The 'sniff test' also won't help, sadly; pukeworthy levels of toxin can develop long before you can detect any evidence that the food has gone off.

Bottom line: sorry to break it to you, but you eat of your chicken crock pot at your peril. Most times this bacterial growth doesn't happen, but if you ate from that pot and it made everyone sick, it wouldn't be a surprise.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:28 PM on September 26, 2005

As many times as I have seen a slow boil in a crock pot, it's clearly getting to well over 160° degrees and pushing 200°. That said, nothing much lives with extended exposure over 140°, it should be more than ok and essentially sterile.
posted by shagoth at 1:28 PM on September 26, 2005

As long as it was properly refigerated and cooked promptly, I'd probably go ahead.
posted by theora55 at 1:34 PM on September 26, 2005

I would not hesitate to eat it, and eat it heartily.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:37 PM on September 26, 2005

Response by poster: Well, the veg was cold & raw and the chicken was washed and fresh so I will take my chances and eat it, since the majority thinks I won't get sick.

Next time I'll store them in separate baggies until the morning.
posted by catfood at 1:37 PM on September 26, 2005

Ikkyu2 is correct about the toxin levels, unfortunately. If the veggies weren't warm to hot when you put them in the fridge, and if things cooled down rapidly enough, it's OK. It *might* be Ok, but then again ... it really might not.
posted by SpecialK at 1:40 PM on September 26, 2005

Response by poster: SpecialK - nothing was ever warm or hot. I took cold raw veg from the fridge, and layered them in the bottom, and took cold raw chicken, washed it & sliced it and put it on top, and dumped a can of creamy soup on top. So everything was pretty cold the whole time. It went straight from the counter to the fridge, and then from the fridge into the heating element.
posted by catfood at 1:42 PM on September 26, 2005

You will, of course, post a follow-up?
posted by tristeza at 1:45 PM on September 26, 2005

Response by poster: If I am able to.
posted by catfood at 1:46 PM on September 26, 2005

Best answer: Ok, you're probably safe. If anything got above 60 degrees F before it started cooking, though, you might be in for trouble. The crockpot is a good heat insulator.

I used to run a student-operated restaurant. We had a few problems with the concept of "well, I left it out for three hours next to the stove and then put it away, why did it go bad?" ... we're just lucky that it was a vegetarian restaurant. :-P
posted by SpecialK at 1:46 PM on September 26, 2005

I think you're safe simply because this is how 80% of people use their crockpot, and they're not getting sick all over the place.
posted by smackfu at 2:03 PM on September 26, 2005

I've done this probably 100 times and never have felt the slightest twinge in my gut, unless it was simply from eating more than I should have.
posted by luriete at 2:10 PM on September 26, 2005

Does all chicken have this bacteria? I was under the impression that bacterial contamination for food sold in the US was rare... or is that just with beef?
posted by delmoi at 2:16 PM on September 26, 2005

Response by poster: I think raw poultry is a lot more prone to bacteria than beef because of its pH (according to something I saw on Good Eats).
posted by catfood at 2:20 PM on September 26, 2005

The only bacteria I know of that creates toxins that are heat stable is Staph, everything else should be killed of by those high temperatures. Staph stops reproducing (and producing toxin) at ~40 degrees, so freezers should be safe. Unless the chicken was sitting for several hours at normal temperatures and then prepared by a gardner who didn't wash his or her hands, you should be fine. This would have nothing to do with the vegetables and chicken touching each other.
posted by geoff. at 2:28 PM on September 26, 2005

Raw poultry is loaded with bacteria -- you don't even wanna know the gory details.

However, the issue about storing chicken and veggies together is more about using the veggies separately from the chicken. You would not want chicken blood dripping on ANYTHING you served people unless you were going to cook it thoroughly. You have cooked everything thoroughly, so no problem.

In the future, the rule of thumb is to put chicken on the lowest shelf of your fridge so that it cannot drip onto anything. Anything you are not going to serve cooked should be stored above everything else so that it won't get cross-contaminated.
posted by briank at 2:32 PM on September 26, 2005

Another thing to consider (for next time!) is the time it takes the crock itself to get up to temp when it and its contents are fridge cold. If you're preparing everything the night before, it's safer to put all your pre-prepared bits in a different container in the fridge. Then pre-heat your crockpot in the morning for 20 minutes on high and then add all your cold bits and pieces. It gives it all a head start in getting past the danger zone for lukewarm chicken.
posted by slightlybewildered at 2:33 PM on September 26, 2005

Chicken has notoriously high levels of bacterial contamination, because of the way it's washed after butchering. Plain water is sprayed onto the chicken, spreading contamination from dirty chickens onto clean ones. IIRC, they used to use some kind of soap in the water, which helped some, but Saint Ronnie decided it was too resrictive of profits and relaxed the requirement (at the same time he halved the number of USDA poultry inspectors). Not thoroughly cooking chicken is begging for trouble.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:56 PM on September 26, 2005

As long as your fridge reaches a hold-safe cold temperature (40°F, I think), you cook it at high enough heat to kill the nasties (150°F, again, I think), and you keep it at a hold-safe hot or cold temperature after that, you should be OK.
posted by adamrice at 3:06 PM on September 26, 2005

2nd the suggestion to start chicken on HIGH in a crockpot. Chicken in the US is often contaminated. You want to minimize the time it spends between very cold and very hot.
posted by theora55 at 3:23 PM on September 26, 2005

I make chicken soup about every other week from frozen chicken breasts in a crock pot and we've never had a problem. Throw the frozen breasts into the pot, add stock & veggies and let'er rip on low for 8-10 hours. It started because I forgot to defrost the chicken before hand when I first got the crock pot, but damn if the "frozen to crock pot" method hasn't turned out some fabulous soup. Maybe just skip the defrost process altogether next time?
posted by macadamiaranch at 4:53 PM on September 26, 2005

Perhaps worth stressing that washing the chicken is very important. Most of the bacteria are on the surface of the meat, so thorough washing reduces your chances of contracting something awful considerably. This is why minced meat is so vulnerable to contamination, because the bacteria-laden surface has been stirred through the whole mass, inoculating the interior.

So well done, catfood.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:52 PM on September 26, 2005

damn, I am SO using that frozen-to-crock-pot trick! Sweet!
posted by mwhybark at 6:45 PM on September 26, 2005

It's issues like this that explain my personal stash. However, I hadn't t thought to look it up before, so I missed this part: "If there is a suspicion of diarrhea associated with organisms that can penetrate the intestinal walls, such as E. coli O157:H7 or salmonella, loperamide is contraindicated." So maybe my idea ain't so great idea after all. YHBW.

(At least I don't try to eat worms.)
posted by davy at 7:04 PM on September 26, 2005

Still alive, btw. Dinner was delish.
posted by tastybrains at 8:01 PM on September 26, 2005

Oh btw, yeah, this is catfood. I didn't mean to have two names, but it's a long story.
posted by tastybrains at 8:04 PM on September 26, 2005

Just wondering: I live in Japan, and I'm always warning my gf about undercooked chicken, which shows up from time to time in Japanese dishes(they even have chicken sashimi, if you can believe that). She tends to laugh it off--they don't really have the paranoia/caution we have in the states. Is American chicken really so different/more dangerous?
posted by zardoz at 10:58 PM on September 26, 2005

Zardoz: Maybe so.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:21 AM on September 27, 2005

It seems that this crock pot experiment has changed catfood into a zombie.
posted by grateful at 6:52 AM on September 27, 2005

At a certain point a few years ago, Russia forbid American chicken from being imported because it didn't meet their safety requirements.

Possible leftover Cold War bias, but I feel that when we're not even up to the standards of Russia, there's a problem...
posted by occhiblu at 7:41 AM on September 27, 2005

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