|Food Safety and Inspection
United States Department of Agriculture
Washington, D.C. 20250-3700
Susan Conley (301) 504-9605
USDA Hotline: A Food Safety Resource for Millions
WASHINGTON, November 18, 2003 – “Can I stuff my turkey the night before roasting it?”
“My husband got a cured ham as a gift at the office and left it in the car trunk all day. Since it’s cured, it’s safe, isn’t it?”
“Can I partially roast a rib roast, refrigerate it, and finish cooking it the following day?”
These and thousands of other questions are posed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Meat and Poultry Hotline every year, especially during the holiday season, America’s favorite time to cook. Callers don’t want to discard valuable food, but more importantly, they don’t want to serve food that could make someone sick.
The USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline has served almost two million callers since it began operating on July 1, 1985. Educating consumers about food safety to reduce the risk of foodborne illness is the Hotline’s overriding mission.
In the beginning, calls to the Hotline were mostly general, like, “Is food left out overnight safe to eat?” But as consumers became more knowledgeable about food safety, questions became more technical.
“While knowledge of food safety has definitely increased, many consumers still don’t follow the basics of safe food handling – Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill,” said Dr. Elsa Murano, USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety. “These are four simple food safety steps that all cooks can follow to keep their food safe during the holidays and all year long.”
Murano added that two decades ago, most Americans had never heard of E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella Enteritidis, and Listeria monocytogenes.”
“I firmly believe that the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline has played a major part in educating Americans about these bacteria and how to avoid foodborne illness,” she said.
Instant Information to Consumers
When calls are received at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854), Hotline food safety specialists are able to assess the caller’s knowledge of food safety and provide appropriate guidance. Talking callers through a difficult or puzzling situation helps them choose the safest food-handling alternatives, thus reducing the risk of foodborne illness. Specialists also assist by clearing up misconceptions callers may have about food safety.
In an emergency situation, such as an outbreak of foodborne illness, a power outage, natural disaster, or a food product recall, the Hotline provides vital information to consumers in a timely manner. For example, in the event of a meat or poultry recall, callers can obtain detailed information that will help them identify the suspect product.
New Methods of Communication
In 2002, the toll-free Hotline extended its service to callers whose first language is Spanish by adding Spanish-speaking specialists. The FSIS Web site (www.fsis.usda.gov) also contains hundreds of food safety publications for consumers. Many of the topics contained in these publications evolved from questions posed to the Hotline’s staff. The internet has also helped direct many callers to the Hotline. Questions can also be posed using the Hotline’s e-mail address: MPHotline.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Regarding those tough Thanksgiving questions:
No, it’s not safe to stuff a turkey the day before or even hours before roasting. The ingredients for the stuffing can be prepared ahead of time; however, keep wet and dry ingredients separate and chill perishable ingredients. Mix wet and dry ingredients just before putting the stuffing into a casserole or filling the turkey cavity. Cook the turkey immediately after stuffing. Use a food thermometer to make sure the center of the stuffing reaches 165 °F and the turkey reaches 180 °F in the thigh.
Cured ham is not safe if left in a car trunk all day. Curing does not make the ham shelf stable. Only dry cured “country” hams and shelf-stable canned hams are safe at room temperature. Always refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours (1 hour when the temperature is above 90 °F). Unfortunately, the ham mentioned earlier should be discarded.
Never brown or partially cook meat or poultry, refrigerate, and finish cooking later. You increase the risk of bacterial growth. Once you begin, cook it until it has reached a safe internal temperature to ensure all bacteria are killed.
For more information in English and Spanish, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854); TTY: 1-800-256-7072. The Hotline's hours are Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Eastern Time, year-round, and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving. An extensive selection of timely food safety messages is also available at the same number 24 hours a day. Information can also be accessed on the FSIS Web site at www.fsis.usda.gov. E-mail inquiries may be directed to MPHotline.email@example.com.
*Editor’s Note: See information on Turkey Basics at the following links:
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