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May 23, 2011 06:47 AM

Can I eat it? Lobster edition

Hi everyone. So I entertained some friends last night with lobster (4 lobsters in total). After killing them, I poached the tails and claws separately and reserved the bodies to make stock. This morning (approx. 11 hours after preparing the lobster) I realize that I have forgotten to put the lobster bodies into the fridge and that they have been sitting out all day. It was a coolish night, maybe 15C. So I need opinions here: Use the lobsters or chuck them? For context, I am poor grad student who doesn't get to make his own lobster bisque very often.

As my name would suggest, I know a thing or two about bacteria and what-not. My brain says that it should be safe, but I just want a second (or third) opinion! =D

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  1. No expert here, but If they pass the smell test, I would use them.

    1. They will be fine but cooking is key. When you boil them to make the stock, any bacteria that settled in will be summarily dispatched.

      13 Replies
      1. re: LiveRock

        But the toxins they might have thrown off that have been multiplying for hours are probably heat resistant.

        I'm a total no.

        1. re: C. Hamster

          Only a few bacteria produce heat-stable toxins. Staphylococcus aureus is the most likely candidate. But staph bacteria aren't just floating around in the air - you need a source for them. Unless there's reason to believe that the lobsters came into contact with somebody who's infected, the risk is minuscule.

          1. re: alanbarnes

            You're right that staph A. is one of the few bacteria producing heat stable toxins.

            But a lot of people are infected, or more accurately colonized, by staph aureus. About 1 in 3 I believe. It often resides harmlessly in the nose and mouth or on the skin, and can easily be transmitted from these areas to food by the cook's hands during prep. It is a legitimate concern for most foodstuffs that have been handled and then left out of the fridge for over 4 hours. The better the cook's hygiene and cleanliness is, the less risk there is.

            Doesn't mean that there's an enormous risk here, btw. Just saying not to discount staph aureus just because no one who's touched your food is sick.

            1. re: cowboyardee

              Many people have staph aureus in their system, but the most likely source of infection is somebody who's actively shedding bacteria. And that usually comes along with other symptoms.

              I think we're in agreement that the risk is real but small. If somebody in the house is very old, very young, or immunocompromised, then extra precautions should be taken. Otherwise I personally wouldn't worry too much about it. YMMV, of course.

              1. re: alanbarnes

                "Many people have staph aureus in their system, but the most likely source of infection is somebody who's actively shedding bacteria. And that usually comes along with other symptoms."
                I don't think that's accurate. Staph infections are most often skin infections, which will have little to do with shedding bacteria unless they're rubbing foodstuffs against an infected wound. On the other hand, I haven't read any studies of exactly how staph A gets into food, so if you have any good sources please direct me to them. I'm just extrapolating from what I know of treating staph infections medically and what I know of food poisoning.

                Or do you just mean that someone with a sneeze is more likely to spread bacteria that have colonized his nose? That's true, though it's not the staph that's making him sneeze.

                1. re: cowboyardee

                  >>"I don't think that's accurate. Staph infections are most often skin infections, which will have little to do with shedding bacteria unless they're rubbing foodstuffs against an infected wound."<<

                  AFAIK that's about the size of it. Most of what I've read is anecdotal rather than epidemiological, but a common source of infection appears to be a food handler with an open wound. Couple that with temperature abuse and you've got a recipe for a picnic with an unhappy ending.

                  1. re: alanbarnes

                    It seems like we have the same conversation about staph every time someone asks if something is safe to eat. Ha!

                    1. re: joonjoon

                      I have yet to learn of a case of MRSA being transmitted by food contamination - anyone?

                      1. re: Veggo

                        I don't believe that MRSA would behave or be treated any differently than normal Staph Aureus in cases of food poisoning, since in food poisoning it's the toxin that's the problem rather than infection. In other words, being resistant to penicillins doesn't much matter when you're not gonna administer antibiotics anyway. I don't think there are any significant differences in the toxins of the strains, but I can't say for sure.

                        1. re: cowboyardee

                          Exactly. The staph may be methycillin-resistant, but it isn't boiling-water-resistant.

            2. re: alanbarnes

              It seems all of you have bits and pieces here, S. Aureus is a naturally occurring skin flora. It is also and opportunistic disease, meaning it doesn't bother you unless your normal healthy defenses are down. Yes some people are active colony carriers (about 20%) but that does not mean they are sick themselves. Is is also one of the buggers that causes acne(pimples). So just because you may not be a colony carrier doesn't mean you don't have it on your skin! Think of all the things you touch in a day and then think of all the people who have also touched the same things. I did a project in college where we swabbed door handles, computer keyboards, cabinet knobs, and refrigerator door handles and grew the buggers on plates. The results were staggering. However, don't bath in the alcohol gel yet and put on your plastic suit. It is mostly harmless.
              In regards to MRSA, all this means is that this particular strain of S. Aureus is resistant to a class of antibiotics (specifically methicillin in the penicillin class) again it is an opportunistic disease which is why you find in in hospitals, nursing homes, public pools, ect. Where people of compromised immune systems are likely to be and contract the bug. As far as contracting MRSA from contaminated would stand to reason that cooked food unless handled after the cooking process by infected skin would be safe, but the containers it is in or utensils touched by some on actively infected there is a slight chance. Once again though, unless your feeling a bit down with a cold that day, your immune system is healthy your chances of contacting are very low.
              Anyway answer to OP: I wouldn't use it, but I I also throw out things after their expiration/sell by dates. I err on the side of caution, I really dislike food poisoning and I would feel horrible for days if I caused a friend to become ill (plus they would never trust my cooking again!)

              1. re: BelovedofIsis

                Staph food poisoning (as opposed to cellulitis) is not opportunistic. It's caused by the bacteria's toxin, not the bacteria itself. If there is enough staph toxin contaminating your food, you're gonna get food poisoning, healthy immune system or not.

                Of course, being otherwise sick or ill makes staphylococcal food poisoning more dangerous or deadly.

                1. re: cowboyardee

                  Your absolutely right about the food poisoning part. It would then depend on incubation length and how much toxin is actually present in the food at consumption. Cooking will kill the bug but not remove the toxin.

        2. My first reply was going to be along the lines "just chuck it, dummy" until I came to the "I am poor grad student" part. I then revised the response to something like "You know, silly grad student, that maybe you chuck it, but..."

          Cooking it will kill the bacteria, of course, but if its FUBAR the flavor will certainly hurt. I'd suggest a sniff test - if it smells like you wouldn't want to eat it, don't. If its not bad, boil 'em up (or roast them first) and sniff again, followed by a taste test and go from there.

          Thats what I'd do if I were a poor, forgetful grad student {;-/)

          1 Reply
          1. re: porker

            I would also remove and throw away the head sac...

          2. Since I'm an ex-grad student, I'd say throw it. Fairly high fat and protein substrate, relatively long cooling process = pretty good bacterial substrate. 15ÂșC is not "cool-ish" in the bacterial sense. You could always swab and transfer onto an agar plate to see what grows.

            1. If you made a stock from em, you wouldn't have anything to fear from vibrio, the most common cause of food poisoning from shellfish. But I don't really know what else might be growing on the bodies after being left out for 11 hours.

              Whether to use them anyway... my gut says that after 11 hours out, if they pass the smell test, the chances of a stock making you sick are fairly low. But not non-existent. Your judgement call to make, really. If you make it, use yourself as a guinea pig, refrigerate or freeze the stock, and wait a couple days before trying a bigger portion or serving it to others, especially to anyone who might be at increased risk (very young or old people, pregnant women, immuno-compromised people, etc).