Hock Locks and Other Accoutrements|
| "Say, what's this
plastic thing holding the legs together on our turkey? Won't
it melt if we put it in the oven?" asks a confused cook.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has the answer to
this and other food safety questions about meat and poultry.
"It's a hock lock," answers the technical information
specialist in Washington, DC, answering the USDA Meat and Poultry
Hotline's toll-free number at 1-888-MPHotline
"A what?" the caller responds.
"A hock lock secures the hind legs—or hock—of
a chicken or turkey. It can be made of heat-resistant nylon
or metal, and it's perfectly safe to leave it in the bird while
it roasts. However," the Hotline specialist goes on, "it's
more difficult to get a bird done evenly, especially in the
leg joints, if the legs are locked or trussed together."
Hock locks are just one of the many functional items—made
from a variety of plastics, metal, paper, and cotton—that
producers may use on their products. Establishments must have
on file documentation that the materials are safe for the intended
or expected use with meat and poultry.
However, sometimes cooks use them in ways other than intended
by the manufacturer. By mistake, consumers have left the paper-
or plastic-wrapped giblets inside the turkey during cooking,
neglected to take the plastic protector off ham bones, and "cooked"
the absorbent paper-and plastic pad which can be packaged under
meat in foam trays.
Do these and other mistakes leave the food unsafe to eat? Here
are the answers from the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline.
Leaving the paper- or plastic-wrapped giblets inside
the turkey during cooking:
Some giblets are paper wrapped before being inserted into the
poultry body cavity. In this case, there would be no concern
if the giblets are accidentally cooked inside the bird to a
safe temperature. If giblets were packed in a plastic bag, and
the bag has been altered or melted by the cooking process, do
not use the giblets or the poultry because harmful chemicals
may have migrated into the surrounding meat. If the plastic
bag was not altered, the giblets and poultry should be safe
to use as long as the meat is fully cooked.
Neglecting to take the plastic protector off ham
The plastic bone guard covering the exposed bone is used to
keep the bone from breaking the outer wrap. If left on the meat
during cooking, a 325 or 350 °F oven temperature may not
melt the plastic but still give off an abnormal chemical odor
or taste. Cutting away the meat around the exposed area will
not necessarily solve this potential food safety problem because
the penetration of the chemical into the meat will be unknown.
If meat is cooked in a closed container, the chemicals may
penetrate the entire piece of meat. USDA advises not to eat
the ham; discard it.
"Cooking" the absorbent paper and plastic
pad which can be packaged under meat in foam trays:
The absorbent pad is clearly not intended to be cooked; however,
if this happens and the packaging materials remain unaltered
(that is, do not melt or come apart), the cooked meat will
not pose an imminent health hazard. If the packaging materials
have melted or changed shape in some other way, do not use the
"To net or not"— leaving ham or
turkey netting on during cooking:
Sometimes, when removing the packaging around a ham or turkey,
consumers find an inner netting surrounding the meat product.
Its purpose is to hold boned meat and poultry in a specific
shape. The netting can be of a fabric, plastic, or plastic and
rubber. The fabric netting can be used with food. It may burn
a bit if high heat is used, but there is no concern of transferring
unsafe chemicals to the meat. Some plastics or plastic and rubber
may be used and are made specifically for use in cooking. However,
the label must have specific cooking directions for
the meat to be safe to eat.
The use of a pop-up temperature indicator and double
checking with a food thermometer:
Pop-up temperature indicators are constructed from a food-approved
nylon. The indicator pops up when the food has reached the final
temperature for safety and doneness. Pop-up temperature indicators
have been produced since 1965 and are reliable to within 1 to
2 °F if accurately placed in the product. It is also suggested
that the temperature be checked with a conventional thermometer
in several places to insure safety.
October 23, 2009