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Please help resolve this difference of opinion- raw ground turkey (not frozen) left on counter for hours still ok if cooked?

My boyfriend and I have differing views on food safety. There is one thing in particular we disagree on but I will admit I do not have the "science" to back up my opinion. Me saying "I don't know why you are wrong but you are!" is not exactly iron clad proof. I would love your thoughts on this and by all means if I am wrong I'm wrong=)

Wonderful boyfriend in question enjoys cooking sometimes. He will buy raw ground turkey (not frozen) and leave it on the counter at room temperature for hours. Even overnight once. His logic behind it is that "wont cooking kill anything anyways". His worst offense was trying to cook it after it was left out all night and then left in fridge (still uncooked) for over almost 2 weeks. He was finally persuaded by the fact that the expiration date was 10 days passed.

I tried to answer with some sort of "well its a numbers thing" but when it comes down to it my common sense is whats screaming at me not to and I do not have an actual answer. I have eaten his food without getting sick plenty of times and it has lots of spice to it (yum) is that a factor?


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  1. Is this ground turkey still in the original, unopened package?

    1 Reply
    1. re: mojoeater

      Yes, though it comes in a tube type thing that I am not 100% sure of its airtight qualities.

    2. Here's information from the USDA: "Consumers with food safety questions can phone the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-800-535-4555. The hotline can be reached from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Eastern Time) Monday through Friday, and recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day." OR http://www.fightbac.org/ OR read this post http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/282689.
      In my opinion there is absolutely NO WAY I would eat ground turkey left out "for hours". Cooking does not kill all bacterial toxins if it has reached a high bacterial count. Ground meats are particularly likely to produce bacteria quickly and poultry is higher in certain bacterias than other meats. On the other hand we survived a long time without refrigeration but ground meat was not part of our diets at that time.

      9 Replies
      1. re: hootyj

        While I too think that the poster's SO has questionable cooking habits, ground meat has been part of the diet prior to modern refrigeration--ie as cured sausage.

        Would I eat it knowing that it has been sitting out all day/night or is 10 days expired? Probably not. Ruth Reichl's mother and the dumpster diving Freegans would probably disagree.

        If you don't have a suppressed immune system, you will probably be fine. But, if it smells funky and then you try to cover up that funk with spices? Not good. It's probably okay if everything is cooked to well done, but I hate things that are well done and would rather not eat it at all.

        1. re: Caralien

          Cured sausage is a different proposition than raw, uncured, fresh ground meat. Curing was conceived to preseve because there was no way to keep fresh meat usable, after all.

          1. re: Caitlin McGrath

            I agree, but cured, smoked, and other sausages were popular prior to refrigeration and do start with raw, fresh, ground meat that is then spiced and salted.

            1. re: Caralien

              Right, but the salt curing, smoking, etc. make all the difference in the life span of the product.

              1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                Don't forget about steak tartare, which apparently has been around since the middle ages and not cured:
                "According to legend, the Tartars sustained themselves on their raids by snacking on raw red meat that they shredded with their knives -- all while on horseback, mind you -- en route to invading some hapless Eastern European territory."

                1. re: Caralien

                  Well, I'm sure they didn't keep statistics on how many perished due to bacteria. Any ground meat purchased in a grocery store may be contaminated by bacteria from other parts of the bird (digestive system), during the butchering of the bird. Since ground turkey is not meant to be eaten raw, it hasn't been handled in a way to minimize this, and the grinding process ensures that that any bacteria on the surface are mixed into the meat. This is why ground meat is generally cooked thoroughly, even hamburgers in most restaurants, whereas steak is readily cooked to rare.

                  Bacteria rapidly multiply in raw meat left at room temperature, and they produce toxins as they do so. Cooking the meat may kill the bacteria, but it won't remove the toxins. These toxins are, well, toxic. Hence the name toxin. The "most toxic substance known to mankind" as it's dubbed by Wikipedia is the toxin that causes botulism. Botulism is not caused by the bacteria, but by the toxin the bacteria produces. Botulism has been described as "sausage poison" because it often occurred in improperly handled meat products (sausages). So, yes, many people have lived well on sausage, but many have perished, too, and handling raw meat is no joke.

                  1. re: Caralien

                    Of course, the legend is just that. Legend.

                    Steak tartare isn't named for the mongol hordes; it's named for tartar sauce. In the the early 20th Century, steak à l'Américaine (raw minced beef) was a popular dish in Parisian bitsros and restaurants. Some chef decided that it was especially good served with tartar sauce, and voila, "steak tartare." Eventually the use of "steak à l'Américaine" faded, and "steak tartare" is now generally used to describe a raw minced beef dish regardless of accompaniments.

                    1. re: alanbarnes

                      alanbarnes, from where did this info come, please? the 1921 escoffier? if so, what was their recipe for tartar sauce then?

                      here is an alternative opinion, fwiw. http://www.straightdope.com/columns/r...

                      1. re: alkapal

                        I'm relying on secondary sources. Specifically, Craig Smith's article in the New York Times (The Raw Truth, April 6, 2005). http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/06/din...

                        Smith substantiated his claims with references to the 1921 edition of Escoffier (which defines "steak tartare" as a variation of steak à l'Américaine served with tartar sauce) and the 1938 LaRousse Gastronomique (which defines "steak tartare" as being synonymous with steak à l'Américaine).

                        My copy of Escoffier (1921, translated to English 1979) is in storage, but the citation to LaRousse is consistent with my 1961 translation of the 1938 edition.

                        Smith's article states that tartar sauce originally consisted of hard-boiled egg yolks pureed with vinegar, chives and oil. While that appears to be consistent with the earliest (17th century) recipes, it appears that by the late 19th century "sauce tartare" generally referred to a spicy mayonnaise with shallots, capers, pickles, and herbs.

                        As far as "The Straight Dope" goes, it's full of interesting facts, but the authority it cites in this case is "Panetti's Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things," which is a sort of Ripley's Believe-It-Or-Not kind of book. And the author's name is Panati, not Panetti. Low marks for careful research there.

        2. What?? No way would I eat it or anything else from his kitchen based on the info in your post. Left out overnight and then put back in fridge for 2 weeks, expiration date past? Does he have any sense of smell? I wouldn't even want to open that package.

          Do yourself a favor and order a pizza. The fact that you'd have to explain to him what is wrong with his food safety practices is ridiculous.

          1 Reply
          1. re: iluvcookies

            In the end you are correct, it's a numbers thing. The chances of getting sick from that may be one in twenty, but if you do it twenty times, you are pretty likely to get sick (btw don't quote me on those numbers, it's just an example)....

            Spices cover up off flavors and can make somewhat spoiled meat taste okay, but they won't protect you from bacteria which thrive at temperatures between 40 degree and 140 degrees.

            A good rule of thumb is to never let food that needs refrigeration sit for more than an hour at room temperature. Keep raw meat in the fridge or freeze it until the day before you mean to cook it and thaw it overnight in the fridge. Let cooked food cool on the counter until it's no longer hot then stick it in the fridge.

          2. I say no, Sam says yes. Take your chances.

            1 Reply
            1. re: pikawicca

              jfood is with you with a big solid NO

            2. My advice... take over the cooking immediately! I just completed a mandatory course in food hygiene & safety, and can tell you what he does is a big no-no. The meat should be refrigerated immediately (under 4 Celsius or 40 Fahrenheit). The rate at which bacteria grows on items depend on many factors including moisture, temperature, oh level, exposure to oxygen. With the raw meat, you have many potential areas affecting spoilage. Furthermore, even cooked, food should never be kept out more than 2 hours.

              1. Don't be misled by the previous statement: "Cooking does not kill all bacterial toxins if it has reached a high bacterial count." What should have been said was, "Proper cooking usually kills bacteria but not their toxins."

                Toxins are non-living poisons that can be produced by some bacteria. Since toxins are not alive, they cannot be killed by heating. When bacteria is killed by heating, their toxins can remain in the food. The amount of ingested toxin required to be damaging or deadly varies with the type of toxin and the size and condition of the victim.

                Refrigeration slows bacterial reproduction and also slows each organism's ability to produce toxin. If the toxin has already been produced, then temperature extremes, high or low, will most likely not reduce its ability to poison.

                I wish you were able to see the processes between the live turkey and the package that you take from a case in a market: the turkey's environment, its slaughter, the many manipulations and movements that take place, the many people, containers, and machines that are involved. The many opportunities for improper sanitation and temperature control. I wish you could see the grinding step and were able to take a close look at the parts of the grinding machine. You would be convinced that it's likely that the ground product is infused with much more bacteria than a frozen turkey.

                1 Reply
                1. re: gliderflyboy

                  >>>>""""Toxins are non-living poisons that can be produced by some bacteria. Since toxins are not alive, they cannot be killed by heating. When bacteria is killed by heating, their toxins can remain in the food. The amount of ingested toxin required to be damaging or deadly varies with the type of toxin and the size and condition of the victim.""""<<<<

                  this is THE most important fact to remember! the toxins remain!

                2. Normally when threads like this come by, I'm the one who says "if it's still wrapped and was only out a couple of hours, you'll be alright." Many disagree with me.

                  However, in this particular case, the OP's boyfriend seems to have a devil-may-care attitude about food safety. Even after cooking, a seriously spoiled piece of meat can cause all sorts of stomach distress due to bacterial toxins that aren't neutralized during cooking. I'm also thinking that the boyfriend has eaten so much bad food in his lifetime, he's probably unwittingly armed himself with immunity to many toxins that would cause illness in someone whose system's not used to ingesting all kinds of toxins.

                  The answer for this particular individual is an education in food safety. The OP's home town Department of Health has plenty of pamphlets/booklets about just how quickly and easily food-borne illness is spread.

                  The other way the OP's boyfriend is going to (eventually) learn what's good for him is if he contracts a particularly bad case of toxicity or infection. A week in bed or a couple of days in the hospital will (hopefully) be the "convincer" that makes him clean up his act. Let's hope the pamphlets from the health dept. teach him so he doesn't have to learn his lesson the hard way.

                  1. I'm usually one of the strongest proponents of the "eat it" position. Here, even I have my reservations.

                    Commercially-ground turkey sometimes contains staphylococcus bacteria. And some staph produce heat-stable toxins that can make you sick even after cooking. The odds may be small, but they're not infinitesimal.

                    As between eating this stuff and starving to death, eat it.

                    As between eating it and throwing it out, it's a tough call.

                    But as between eating it and just putting it in the fridge until you're ready to cook? Refrigerate the @&*$ # turkey, already.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: alanbarnes

                      Oh Man, jfood really thought this one would bring a "toss it" from you.

                      Oh well there are always other threads to try. :-))

                        1. re: Full tummy

                          Frugal, yes, but more importantly an advocate of using common sense.

                          With the disclaimer that I don't cook with ground meat unless I've ground it myself, I'd eat ground turkey that sat on the counter in a 50F kitchen for a couple of hours. Without hesitation. But if it was out for four hours in a 78F kitchen? I'd be worried. And if it left out overnight in a relatively warm place and then returned to the fridge for a week? I'm not even sure I'd feed it to the dogs.

                          But frugality and common sense converge when you bypass the question of whether to eat the stuff and ask why it wasn't refrigerated in the first place. Keep meat in the fridge, check the sell-by date, and cook it by then. What's so hard about that?

                          1. re: alanbarnes

                            Oh, I agree with all of that. I don't understand why it would be out on the counter, in the first place, given that one has a refrigerator.

                      1. I have to agree with shaogo and alanbarnes: I'm a ballsy bastard myself when it comes to food safety, and often the first to say a loud "yes" to "should I eat it?" type questions. In this case, though, I'd probably say no: while the risk may remain low, it's probably significantly high that repeatedly engaging in this behaviour is likely to accumulate to a significant risk over the long term. Just refrigerate the turkey.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: vorpal

                          I've got to agree. At first I said to myself, "an hour or two on the counter ain't that bad." But hearing that he sometimes leaves it out overnight and lets it sit for weeks past its prime makes me say "no way."

                          1. I am surprised you haven't had more nay-sayers here. Someone posted a thread about washing and reusing plastic bags used to store meat and a whole bunch of people showed up saying this was potentially dangerous.

                            Does your boyfriend have a reason to leave the meat out? I mean, why not just cook it from the fridge. Does he like the idea of eating huge quantities of bacteria?

                            Aside from the issue of bacteria, meat becomes slimy and tastes different when it has been left to rot, which is what he is doing. (Perhaps this is why he needs to add lots of spice...)

                            As I say above, in reply to another reply, it's not just the bacteria you need to worry about, but the toxins produced by the bacteria, which are not killed when you cook the food.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Full tummy

                              I too was wondering WHY is he leaving the meat out? Is it deliberate or is he just too lazy to put it in the fridge. Does he think there's a problem with cooking ground meat straight from the fridge?

                              In any event, I wouldn't eat it.

                            2. I wouldn't eat it. That stuff is so nasty anyway, and smells terrible when it's fresh, that it would be easy to mistake for good. Gross gross gross....

                              1. Definitely not. If your kitchen is kept at 40 degrees - maybe

                                1. For myself...if it was left on the counter for a few hours and I was cooking it thoroughly, I'd probably go ahead and use it. The 2 weeks scenario? No friggin' way. That I'd definitely toss.

                                  1. i see tripeler's admonition to consider the relationship (and my second) was nixelated. too bad. the boyfriend of the OP is living carelessly -- which could redound to the detriment of the OP in foodways and other ways.

                                    to the OP's boyfriend: wassamatta u? use the fridge!