The podcast stars with a discussion of the Violet Femmes, AC/DC, Ben’s recently acquired addiction to The Wire (he’s up to Episode 6), and the reason for why Don doesn’t need to feel guilty for not doing his homework – to watch The Newsroom.
Recently, Don had a call from a consumer who had made salsa (three weeks prior) but had forgotten to add the lemon juice. She wanted to know what she could do. The guys agreed that the concern was due to Clostridium botulinum which could grow in a low-acid environment and lead to toxin outgrowth (some guidance is provided in this NDSU document) and the best option is to discard the salsa.
This reminded Ben of the judging of the home food preservation competition of the North Carolina State Fair. He explained how he’s introduced additional food safety science into the judging process – with respect to which foods to taste and alternative criteria for evaluation. Ben’s got a set of criteria he uses to determine whether to exclude products from the competition (based on whether the product comes from a tested recipe source such as NCHFP, Ball's Blue Book or USDA's Guide to Home Canning), whether to allow for tasting and ensure that recommended processing times have been used (self-reported by the participants). Judges don't taste any high risk foods (e.g. beets), and they test pH of the lower risk products. Ben reviews the competition premium book annually to ensure things are clear. Don liked Ben’s approach and encouraged him to write his process up for the Journal of Extension.
The conversation then focused on the safety of a brandied fruit starter recipe that Ben has been asked to evaluate. Given the acidity of the canned ingredients, and while E. coli O157 could be an issue, the guys agreed that the major concern is again Clostridium botulinum. In particular, Don was concerned about ‘cooks’ who don’t follow the recipe and replace canned fruit with fresh fruit or sugar with honey – both of which are likely to introduce C. botulinum into the mixture. Don cited the recent outbreak of botulism in a prison from Pruno as an example of such innovative behavior. Ben then queried the effect of refrigeration, which Don thought would have an impact on C. botulinum spores, but might also impact the fermentation. This reminded Ben of his early days in extension work when he was asked about an Amish Friendship Bread starter, which has been researched and found to present little risk if done properly.
The conversation the shifted to cooking and serving large amounts of chili, as Ben had been asked about food safety considerations for a chili supper fundraiser. Ben put the organizers in touch with the local environmental health officers to make sure they comply with the necessary regulations. In addition, he provided them with some information about how to achieve rapid cooling (and why it was important). While doing his research for this question he found an article on Clostridium perfringens during cooling in commercial chili. Don has been involved in similar extension work on roast beef for which he used this FSIS Appendix B. In addition, Don noted that for many practical applications the ComBase Perfringens Predictor is a great tool.
The guys made a fleeting comment about the current XL beef E. coli O157 outbreak, which they may discuss more next time.