Burger

What I eat and don't eat, and why

Before I left Nebraska for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary for Food Safety position, I really was not too fussy about what I ate or how I prepared it.

What follows I have said before, but maybe not all of it at one time or in one place.

And I will start out by admitting that not all that follows makes any sense whatsoever.

Before I left Nebraska for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary for Food Safety position, I really was not too fussy about what I ate or how I prepared it. Fortunately, for me, my wife usually was.

I say usually because now that I am more aware of the dangers of certain foods. There are some habits that my wife just won’t change, and there are some foods I just will not give up, even though I know better.

For instance, ground beef. I know Bill Marler and others gave that product up a long time ago after seeing the damage and suffering as a result of the Jack in the Box outbreak.

I now handle ground beef with extreme care and I always use a digital food thermometer to be sure it is cooked to 160 degrees. I can’t say I always did that before, but I just knew a food safety undersecretary hospitalized with Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome secondary to E. coli O157:H7 from an undercooked burger would fuel for the fire against the animal ag industry.

I think that extra care is just being prudent considering the risk with that product, even though the risk is far less than it was in outbreak of 1993.

And I always order my burgers well done in restaurants when asked.

My wife drives me nuts when she orders her burger medium.

We are very careful with raw chicken in the handling and the cooking to 165 degrees, but I will be the first to confess that I think I probably cross contaminate a lot in the kitchen.

And since I cannot cook them, I simply do not eat sprouts, even though I used to love them until I got into food safety and toured a growing facility.

They are grown in dark, damp, warm conditions favorable for bacterial growth; and even though the growers have multiple steps to reduce risk and they do their best, risk remains as the number of outbreaks show.

Another delicacy that I truly loved in my ignorance, but do not now eat are raw oysters. Vibrio, transmitted through raw oysters, is especially hard on old men who drink alcohol.

A friend of mine got very ill with a Vibrio infection, saw his liver functions seriously impaired and was told he could never drink alcohol again.

Never, ever on the alcohol just for the short term pleasure of a half-dozen raw oysters? That’s a no brainer to this guy. But I will eat them cooked.

Despite the known risk, I just ate two sunny side up eggs yesterday so I could dip my toast in them, and I will probably not give up that choice.

So I can’t preach “just cook it” because I don’t follow the recommendation to have the yolk be cooked solid before consuming.

And I don’t know if it reduces my risk, but I will spend a little extra to buy cage-free eggs.

I cook and/or order my steaks medium rare and I don’t know if they have been needle tenderized or not. I just feel the risk from that steak, even if needle tenderized, is minimal and my taste buds have spoken.

Once again, now that we have a new outlet nearby where I can buy Prime graded steaks, I will spend the extra to further reduce the risk of a medium rare bone-in rib eye to nearly zero.

But I do not buy organic in the name of food safety, I just don’t see the value there for the extra price.

I try and wash our fruit and vegetables, but I cannot help but wonder a little bit about the pure futility of washing broccoli and cauliflower.

I love cantaloupe and must confess here that I often forget to wash the darned thing before cutting it up. My wife gets all over me for that, especially since the cantaloupes involved in the last large outbreak linked to that fruit were raised practically in our own backyard here in Colorado.

My wife buys pre-cut lettuce in bags in the grocery store for convenience even though I beg her not to, but she does listen to me on the pre-cut fruit issue.

I was cooking pork to 140 degrees long before USDA finally lowered the recommended temp from 160. The risk of Trichinosis is far behind us, and that was the main reason for the long-standing160 degree recommendation.

 I tried hard to get that lowered while in D.C., but change is tough at that level even if the science and common sense both point to the need for change.

I did succeed, however, in getting the recommended temperature for safe chicken to be 165 F for all cuts as opposed to three different temperatures for breasts, legs and whole birds that were in effect when I arrived.

I mean, seriously, how many consumers even use a thermometer, much less know the three different temperatures that are recommended. But the old Bee Gees song, “Staying Alive”, might help some baby boomer remember the number.

Stayin’ Alive, 165, OH OH OH OH, Stayin’ Alive.

OK, that is kind of hokey, but still kinda fun. I actually sang it at a press conference once. I think the reporters and my speech writers will remember the number forever.

When I started that process, long-timers actually had a pool as to how long it would take if I ever succeeded.

Sushi? Hardly ever, maybe at the Japanese Embassy, but certainly never when offered a sample at our grocery store.

I don’t eat raw spinach. Not because of the Salinas Valley related E. coli outbreak while I was the undersecretary but because I just don’t like it.  

I do get really picky when shopping and cooking for the grandkids, though, but that is different. They are special. I am not.

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