Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Once "Bitten" . . .

I've been following with interest "Bitten", a New York Times "Dining and Wine" blog by Mark Bittman. Today's "Recipe of the Day" is Fast Roast Chicken.

My appetite for tender, juicy chicken was piqued by Bittman's opening paragraph. But my ardor quickly cooled as I read his instructions. My mental image of succulent poultry shifted to a more sinister scene – Salmonella.

Bittman's recipe calls for placing a whole chicken in a pre-heated heavy, oven-proof skillet, and roasting the bird for 30 minutes in a 450ºF oven. To his credit, Bittman uses an instant-read thermometer. But his temperature target of 155ºF is 10ºF too low for safety – especially if the cook elects to stuff the cavity. The USDA recommends cooking chicken to a minimum internal temperature of 165ºF.

Food columnists publish recipes with the expectation that people will want to try with them. Food safety information is readily available on the Internet. In my opinion, Mark Bittman and other food columnists have a responsibility to verify that the recipes they offer are consistent with generally recognized safe food practices.

Some readers might recall that I raised a similar issue with Martha Stewart last December. No one from her organization ever replied to my email.


  1. Oh, please. The USDA also recommends cooking our pathetically lean pork to 160 degrees, when everyone knows the feared parasite is killed at 137 or if the meat has been frozen for several weeks. Not to mention that trichinosis is really no longer a pork problem, and is most often caused by consumption of wild game. 145 to 150 is perfect for pork, unless you like shoe leather. Also, Bittman instructs us to take the chicken out when the temperature is 155 as it will climb 5 degrees (at least) while resting. Small room-temperature chicken, very hot pan, calibrated oven, rest period. Worked great for me. Besides, we're all adults who read this blog - if the damn thing is undercooked, we can throw it back in!

  2. Wouldn't it be great if the industry-beholden USDA was more interested in getting the salmonella out of our poultry supply then telling us how to kill it in the oven? If Bittman erred at all it was in assuming that his readers would all use what he calls a "good quality" chicken.

  3. I agree with Anonymous, in that I would love to see the USDA clamp down harder on industry. Reducing Salmonella levels in live poultry would be a good thing.

    But even the Scandinavians, who have worked so hard to keep their flocks and henhouses clean, still have a low, residual level of infection in their flocks after several decades of hard work.

    "Good quality" poultry doesn't automatically mean "Salmonella-free" and "Campylobacter-free" poultry. Consumers can't afford to let their collective guards down, regardless of the perceived "quality" of the poultry.


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