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Script: Cooking at High Altitude

 

Podcasts
Script: Cooking at High Altitude
Intro:
Welcome to USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service Food Safety at home podcast series. These podcasts were designed with you in mind - the consumer - who purchases and prepares meat, poultry and processed meat, egg products for your family and friends.

Each episode will bring you a different food safety topic ranging from safe storage, handling, and preparation of meat, poultry and processed egg products to the importance of keeping foods safe during a power outage.

So sit back, turn up the volume and listen in.

Host:
Welcome to “Food Safety at Home.” This is Kathy Bernard with the Food Safety and Inspection Service. I’m your host for this segment. With me today is Tina Hanes, technical information specialist from FSIS’ Food Safety Education Staff. Tina and I will discuss cooking at high altitude.

Hello Tina, welcome to the show.

Guest:
Thank you Kathy, I’m pleased to be here.

Host:
Today we’re going to talk about how cooking at high altitudes differs from cooking at sea level. First of all Tina, what how high is high altitude?

Guest:
Most cookbooks consider at least three thousand feet above sea level to be high altitude, although at two thousand feet, the boiling temperature of water is two hundred eight degrees Fahrenheit instead of two hundred twelve degrees Fahrenheit. One-third of Americans live at high altitude in states with mountainous areas.

Host:
So how does high altitude affect safe cooking?

Guest:
Basically, cooking takes longer because the air has less oxygen and atmospheric pressure. Above two-thousand five hundred feet, the atmosphere becomes much drier. Moisture quickly evaporates from everything. For this reason uncovered food will dry out quickly while cooking.

Foods that are prepared by boiling or simmering will cook at a lower temperature, so it will take longer to cook them. Meat and poultry roasted in the oven will dry out faster, because their juices evaporate sooner. The important thing to remember is that food will have to be cooked longer to reach a safe internal temperature or doneness.

Host:
Why do you need to increase cooking time?

Guest:
As altitude increases and atmospheric pressure decreases, the boiling point of water also decreases. To compensate for the lower boiling point of water the cooking time must be increased. Turning up the heat will not help cook food faster.

No matter how high the cooking temperature -- unless using a pressure cooker, water cannot exceed its own boiling point. If you turn up the heat, the water will simply boil away faster and whatever you are cooking will dry out quicker.

Host:
You said that meat and poultry dry out faster. Why is that?

Guest:
Meat and poultry contain approximately seventy five percent water, although different cuts of meat may have more or less water. With such high water content, meat and poultry are susceptible to drying out while being cooked if special precautions are not taken.

Host:
What adjustments should be made? What are the special precautions?

Guest:
Well, you need to adjust both time and moisture. Generally, one-fourth more cooking time should be added when cooking meat and poultry at high altitude.

Moist heat methods, such as braising – where food is cooked, tightly covered, in a small amount of liquid at low heat for a lengthy period of time -- will yield more juicy and tender meat than oven roasting or broiling. Moist cooking helps the meat retain moisture and break down connective tissue to tenderize tougher cuts of meat.

Host:
Why is a food thermometer helpful?

Guest:
In a high altitude environment, it’s essential to prevent overcooking meat and poultry, which will result in dry, unappetizing food, or to prevent undercooking, which can result in foodborne illness. A food thermometer is the only way to measure whether food has reached a safe internal temperature.

Host:
What about cooking in microwave ovens at high altitude?
Guest:
Surprisingly, microwave cooking generally takes less time than at sea level. This is due to the faster evaporation of liquids at high altitude.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions or recipe, and microwave for slightly less than the minimum length of time recommended. Add cooking time, if necessary. Use a food thermometer to determine if the safe internal temperature has been reached.

Host:
Where can our listeners get more information about cooking at high altitude?

Guest:
There are a number of ways to learn about cooking at high altitude. Contact the Cooperative Extension service in your county. If you live in a high altitude area, the Extension service will have detailed information about cooking. To find a local county extension office, visit the State Extension Service Web site at www.csrees.usda.gov.

Host:
You can visit the FSIS Web site at www.fsis.usda.gov. Or visit us online for assistance from our virtual representative “Ask Karen” at askkaren.gov.

Guest:
Consumers may also find out about high altitude cooking by calling our toll-free USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline. That’s 1-888-674-6854.

Host:
That’s it for this week. We’ve been talking to Tina Hanes, technical information specialist from FSIS’ Food Safety Education Staff. Thank you so much Tina, for your helpful guidance on cooking at high altitude.

I’m Kathy Bernard and I’d like to thank you for joining us for this episode of “Food Safety at Home.” And remember, “Be Food Safe.”

Outro:
Well, that’s all for this time. Thanks for joining us today for another episode of food safety at home!

For answers to your food safety questions call USDA's toll-free meat and poultry hotline at 1-888-mphotline. That’s 1-888-674-6854.

You can also get answers to food safety questions online from our virtual representative "ask karen" at www.askkaren.gov .

Let us know what you think of this podcast by sending your comments to podcast@fsis.usda.gov.
Thanks for tuning in.

Last Modified Nov 08, 2013