Friday, December 28, 2007

Dear Martha,

You are recognized everywhere for your many talents - in home decor, landscaping, color sense and cuisine - and for your exquisite taste. Even my husband’s persnickety Westport, CT aunt thinks that you’re wonderful. But after browsing through the Jan/Feb 2008 issue of “Everyday Food” magazine, it’s very obvious to me that a course in safe food preparation is missing from your resume.

First, let’s talk turkey. Unless you have spent the last few decades living in an isolation booth, you must know that by USDA’s own admission, 20-25% of raw ground turkey meat is contaminated with Salmonella. Yet your recipe directions do not provide for a reliable “kill” step. For example, your “Whole-wheat spaghetti and turkey meatballs” recipe directs the reader to prepare the meatballs as follows:
“In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium high. Cook 20 frozen Light Turkey Meatballs until browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups store-bought marinara sauce and 1/2 cup water: Cook until heated through, 5 minutes.”

These instructions leave too much to the reader’s imagination. Browning alone is not enough to cook the meatballs completely, and “heated through” can mean different things to different people. Starting with hard-frozen meatballs increases the risk that the center of the meatballs won’t reach 165ºF, which is the “safe” temperature recommended by USDA.

I also take strong exception to your instructions for cooking chicken in the microwave. Microwave cooking is a notoriously unreliable way to kill bacteria, especially in a solid piece of meat such as a chicken breast. Customers who purchased ConAgra’s Banquet pot pies found that out the hard way. Cooking the chicken breasts until the meat is “...just opaque throughout...” is not a guarantee of microbiological safety.

A few weeks ago, when I was browsing eggnog recipes on-line, I came across yours. It sounded very tasty, but also very risky. It was completely inappropriate for you to publish a recipe that called for raw eggs without adding at least a precautionary statement about the possibility that the eggs might contain Salmonella Enteritidis. You could easily have recommended that pasteurized eggs be used in the recipe.

According to (now 10 year old) data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are approximately 76 million cases of food-borne disease in the US every year. That is more than one case of food-borne illness for every four people in this country every year. It is time that you, and others like you, shouldered some responsibility for teaching the public how to cook meals that are not only tasty and nutritious, but also are microbiologically safe.


Phyllis Entis, MSc., SM(NRM)


  1. Wow. Thats sorta icky when you think about it.

    Do you think she meant cooked frozen turkey balls?? I buy the cooked meatballs that just need to be heated in the sauce.

  2. No, the recipe definitely calls for preparing the raw turkey meat balls and freezing them raw for later use in various recipes. The recipe I chose as an example appeared to me to be the worst offender.

  3. Gracie's Mom was disappointed to read these directions. The holidays are stressful as sit's your first year without your mother BUT people follow what you tell them and you need to be more careful. Thank you.


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