We all have old recipe books and recipes that have been around for years, but are they safe to use? Many of the ways food was handled or preserved in the past are no longer recommended. According to the U.S. Public Health Service, the four most serious foodborne pathogens are E. Coli, salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes and Campylobacter jejuni. Other than salmonella, these bacteria were not known as a threat to food safety until recently. Some of the bacteria are new and some of them have just developed into stronger strains.
Americans have become more cautious after several instances of foodborne illness causing the deaths of individuals made the headlines. There are many unsafe recipes in magazines and on the Internet. Canning recipes should be from 1989 or newer. When in doubt about a canning recipe, compare it to modern recipe instructions. "Food Reflections" published by the University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension Center suggests checking some critical food safety points on a recipe.
Oven temperatures should be no lower than 325° F for cooking meats, poultry or casseroles containing meat or poultry. At an oven temperature lower than 325°, it takes a long time to get the temperature of the meat or poultry high enough to kill bacteria or prevent the growth of more bacteria. Once the food is thoroughly cooked, the bacteria should be destroyed and the oven temperature may be lowered to keep foods hot until serving time.
Eggs should be thoroughly cooked until the whites and yolk are firm. If a recipe is not to be cooked and calls for uncooked or partially cooked eggs, do not use the recipe unless commercially-pasteurized eggs can be used to reduce the risk. Eggs not pasteurized should be cooked to 160° F. A soft custard mixture will coat a metal spoon, or a knife inserted into the center of a baked custard or quiche will come out clean when the eggs are cooked to the proper temperature. The milk, sugar and egg base for homemade ice cream and eggnog can be heated to 160° F then chilled before adding the other ingredients to make the recipe safe to use. Heating the eggs to this temperature will destroy the bacteria present in the raw eggs.
Meat and poultry need to be handled with care to insure any bacteria they have come in contact with are destroyed. This is even more critical for ground meat products. The inside color of the meat is not always an accurate indicator of doneness. The only way to insure the internal temperature of the meat is high enough is to use a thermometer. The following chart shows appropriate temperatures.
• Ground beef, veal, pork, lamb ——– 155° F
• Ground chicken or turkey ———— 165° F
• Beef, veal or lamb roast or steaks — 145° F, rare; 160° F, med.; 170° F, well
• Pork chops, roast, ribs —————– 160° F, med.; 170° F, well
• Ham, fresh (raw) ———————– 160° F
• Ham, cured or fully cooked ———– 140° F
• Whole chicken or turkey ————– 165° F
• Poultry breast ————————— 165° F
• Poultry thighs ————————— 165° F
• Stuffing (cooked separately) ———– 165° F
Meat or poultry should not be partially cooked unless it is to be finished cooking in another way immediately. Meats and poultry should be completely cooked before adding to other ingredients in a casserole. If the meat is to be marinated, do so in a covered glass container in the refrigerator. Do not use marinade on cooked food that has been in contact with raw meat or poultry. Do not baste cooked meat with a brush that has been in contact with raw meat or poultry.
There are many unsafe recipes in circulation, so check the oven temperatures, check for raw eggs and check to see that the directions for handling meats or poultry are safe. When using old canning or pickling recipes, compare them to current recommended practices to see if they are safe or it is even better to get current recipes from your local county Extension office or USDA.
Angela Treadaway is a Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety. For any questions on food safety or preparation of vegetables, contact her at (205) 410-3696 or your local County Extension office.