Friday, April 8, 2011

Ruhlman vs. Public Health

Isolated bacteria - Micrococcus luteus
In a post about stock, Michael Ruhlman probably freaked out more food safety professionals, public health officials, and general germaphobes than can be counted:
Last week I posted on Twitter that leaving chicken stock (recipe below) out on the stovetop all week was fine and I got all kinds of mystified tweets about how could this possibly be safe.
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People are unnecessarily afraid of bacteria. Once your stock is cooked, it’s safe to eat. If there was bad bacteria in it, you’d have killed it. Let it cool uncovered (the faster the better; don’t fear bacteria but don’t give them the upper hand). Leave the pot out on the stove top (covered or uncovered once it’s cooled, doesn’t really matter). Bring it up to heat the next day and any bacteria that landed there and began to mulitply (and they multiply with astonishing speed at 90 to 110 degrees F.) will be dispatched well before the stock hits a simmer.
People who cook seem to always be at war with food safety guidelines... I guess because of things like how the USDA tends to recommend vastly overcooking every piece of meat in the name of safety, is considering banning raw milk cheeses, and is deathly afraid of raw milk in general. Of course, what's a minor risk to a person can be a fairly large public health hazard on the population level... so it's not hard to understand where they're coming from, even if you don't agree with it. I used to generally favor paternalism on these issues in the past... protecting people from their stupid selves... but now pretty much only care about it on the restaurant level. I'm not sure Yelp reviews can quite as adequately protect me from food poisoning as the Health Department... but think we should let people make their own decisions in their own homes. I wouldn't leave a pot of chicken stock out all week, but that's more from living with a vegetarian who probably wouldn't enjoy the smell of me reheating it everyday. On holidays like Thanksgiving, where fridge space is at a premium, I've considered leaving half-prepared dishes out overnight... I was going to cook it the next day anyway, right? Wouldn't that kill all the bacteria? But in the end never really felt it was worth it... and just made more space in the fridge. YMMV.