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Chris Amirault

Food Safety with Cured or Smoked Meats

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Over in the Charcuterie topic, we've been experiencing odors, textures, and colors that range from sublime to funky to waaaay off. Being thoughtful, Abra raised the question about food safety:

Someone has to say this sometime, so it might as well be me, since I'm possibly the only one of us with a ServSafe certificate and a semi-anal approach to food safety.  You know how we say that people have been doing this meat curing stuff for millenia?  Well, please, don't be too macho!  People also used to die regularly from food-borne illnesses.  Let's not repeat that part of history!

Smart points -- but as I thought about it, I realized that I really didn't have any solid information beyond the material covered in Ruhlman and Polcyn's book (which some have seen as excessive) concerning food safety with cured and smoked meats.

What are the basics? What are the issues we should be considering? Beyond keeping things ultra clean during prep, what are the things we can do in our home curing chambers and garage refrigerators? And if we have something in that funky range -- how green is green? when does chalky mold become fuzzy mold? -- and are distraught at the thought of tossing our product into the trash, where can we turn to make the right decisions?

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Hey Chris et all has anyone spoken to some one who is wet or even dry aging beef??

They may have some insight on how green is too green for Ronnie to eat or how fuzzy is too fuzzy for you?

T

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Over in the Charcuterie topic, we've been experiencing odors, textures, and colors that range from sublime to funky to waaaay off. Being thoughtful, Abra raised the question about food safety:
Someone has to say this sometime, so it might as well be me, since I'm possibly the only one of us with a ServSafe certificate and a semi-anal approach to food safety.  You know how we say that people have been doing this meat curing stuff for millenia?  Well, please, don't be too macho!  People also used to die regularly from food-borne illnesses.  Let's not repeat that part of history!

Smart points -- but as I thought about it, I realized that I really didn't have any solid information beyond the material covered in Ruhlman and Polcyn's book (which some have seen as excessive) concerning food safety with cured and smoked meats.

What are the basics? What are the issues we should be considering? Beyond keeping things ultra clean during prep, what are the things we can do in our home curing chambers and garage refrigerators? And if we have something in that funky range -- how green is green? when does chalky mold become fuzzy mold? -- and are distraught at the thought of tossing our product into the trash, where can we turn to make the right decisions?

Well, I can answer a few of those, CA. Chalky mold becomes fuzzy mold when there is fuzzy mold around instead of chalky mold. That's the easy one. They are two different species, and if you aren't careful with what you have around, it's easy to have both inoculated in your meat.

One thing you can do in your home curing chamber if you think it has something wrong with it, i.e. you have mold spores in there that aren't the spores you want, you can make your own sporicidal gassing agent using common household Hydrogen Peroxide, an outlet timer available at Target or RadioShack, and an electric skillet.

But, THIS IS NOT FOR USE INSIDE THE HOUSE OR ANYWHERE THAT THERE ISN'T EXCELLENT VENTILATION OUTSIDE OF YOUR CURING CHAMBER! I cannot stress that enough.

Also, as well as keeping ultra clean during prep, keep ultra clean after prep. When you're done, clean everything. Dry it well. Clean your walls, cabinets, and your floor. Make sure everything dries well. Before and after. Every time.

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Well, my curing chamber is in my basement, so I can't use that hydrogen peroxide gas, and I'm pretty careful about cleaning everything -- but, again, my basement is very far from a sterile environment....

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Can ya move it to use the sporicide? If you've got the wrong molds growing, you can't get them out without using either a lot of bleach or some other strong sporicidal agent.

The beauty of the vaporised hydrogen peroxide treatment is that it is no-rinse.

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Sure, I could move it outside -- but then I'd bring it right back into a wet, musty basement that's surely got evil things seeping from the walls and floors. Still worth doing?

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That depends on many things. What is your curing chamber? An old fridge?

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It's a big plastic bin, basically: click here.

I really appreciate the input, man. Are there any good online resources for meat safety that you can recommend?

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Well, from the looks of that, the peroxide treatment isn't the right plan.

If you use the iodine no-rinse sterilizer for beer and are careful about keeping it closed, you will have fewer problems (if you've had any already).

I would suggest a serious cleaning of the damp, musty basement, though.

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I'm pretty sure I read recently that charcuterie is mostly done in the cooler-colder months of the year. I've also been thinking about this while reading what you all are making in the heat of the summer.

Just wondering if perhaps the time of year/weather may conspire to work against you?

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It's a good question, and I'm definitely packing up the curing equipment for the next few months -- particularly after reading this article on these issues. It lists common pathogens and discusses the particular problems raised by current demands:

Today, consumers demand foods that are minimally processed, as "natural" as possible, and yet are convenient to use. Complicating these factors is a consumer preference toward cured and smoked foods that are processed with lower salt, lower nitrate and higher moisture levels. These parameters have a tremendous impact on the safety of a given cured/smoked food or process. Preferences for low fat and low sugar have less impact on the safety, but these factors can change the traditional curing and smoking process. It will be difficult to completely eliminate the use of nitrite, as there is no known substitute for it as a curing agent for meat. Nonetheless, the demand for fewer chemicals added to foods has put pressure on the industry and the scientific community to seek new alternatives.

There are some interesting explanations here (e.g., that green tint seems to come from Lactobacillus viridescens) and more precision concerning some techniques (e.g., the percentage of vinegar in a cleaning solution to wash away molds should be 10%). Interesting reading, if a bit scary.

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Well, to be quite honest, CA, many producers have systems that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars that are used to identify what is contaminating their food products. I operate one of these machines, actually.

But, very little can be done if you don't start with a clean area, and end with a clean area, especially if you are attempting to produce year-round. Another thing you can try is to produce in one area for a weekend's worth of work. Then, for the next weekend's worth, cure in a different area. Make sure you use fallow/active cycles in your production areas so you aren't promoting the growth of people food-unfriendly organisms by always curing in the same area.

There are a ton of strategies, to be honest, and there are several that will likely work for people.

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If you're not *sure* it's safe, throw it out. Mold that is visible to the naked eye has already invaded the entire volume of food.

jsolomon's cleanliness recommendations sound spot on. If you're dealing with intractable basement issues (like a dirt floor or leaks that you can't afford to fix), you need a shroud for your curing bin. I'm not sure what the right kind of shrouding would be, but enclosing the curing area would make it much easier to keep clean. Then your only issue would be contamination in transit from the prep area to the curing chamber, and that can be minimized by doing the transfer with the product covered.

From what you've described of the area you have to work with, you're probably better off with things like bacon or country ham. High salt content and whole muscles will make production safer. I'd also see if there's a local butcher, because they'll likely have ideas on labs who can test your products. Butchers who do their own sausages and cured meats will have experience with things going wrong, and can give you in person guidance. In some cases, your cured product may look like something has gone dreadfully wrong, but it's actually ok. In other cases, looking perfectly safe is a warning sign that it's not.

Emily

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Hey Chris et all has anyone spoken to some one who is wet or even dry aging beef??

They may have some insight on how green is too green for Ronnie to eat or how fuzzy is too fuzzy for you?

I have dry aged beef loins and some lamb legs for three weeks or so in a small refrig, (an old style with the freezer section incorporated in the main part of the inside that gets a a build up of ice that needs defrosting) and never got any growth of mold. You just cut off all of the dried outer layer and off to the grill.The meat is nice colored and is better than the wet aged.

I have also wet aged the loins in their original cryovac for 45 days . When you un pack them the liquid in the bag smells bad, but I wash it all off in clean water and the meat smells fine and has not caused any problems... The liquid in any cryovac bag seems to smell anyway, even if its fresh from the packer.

Bud

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I just threw away my half pig I had curing today. Things were going bad from about three weeks in as I described in a thread or two on here. I got some sausage and a pork loin out before things went drastically bad, which was really just lately, the last month or so, when three dimentions and lots of green and other molds were colonizing in full force, I could have probably saved the ham and belly if I moved them to the fridge for the summer, but I don't have room. Next time I will at least lime everything and make sure the walls are sealed. I like my dirt floor however, it keeps the temp down allowing for a nice long curing season here in the north east, mabye four months would need a cooler.

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Just for the record, as bold I have claimed to be, I don't think I would have eaten the green jowl bacon I produced if I hadn't cooked it before eating it. It wasn't moldy though, just slightly tinted. Still, I don't think I would have had the nerve.

With whole meats (as opposed to sausage or forcemeat) the risk for something to go wrong is smaller anyway. But cooking it is what actually gave me the peace of mind to try it without feeling like I was being overly risky.

=R=

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How important is temperature in drying cured sausages? We have salt, Prague Powder, and a lactic acid starter, shouldn't this be enough to protect the sausage during the drying phase? As I understand it the salt stops a large proportion of the microbial and/or bacterial growth, the prague powder prevents botulism, and the lactic acid changes the PH to further retard microbial and/or bacterial growth.

When we cure at the start of the process at room temperature, and we have the protection of the changed ph plus the casing which will have started to dry and form another barrier is it possible for anything other than incorrect drying to cause our sausages to fail? Is humidity more important than the temperature?

The reason I am asking all these question is that I would like to make some peperone and chorizo using lamb casing to speed up the drying process, but lack a drying chamber. I have on old refrigerator but even turning the thermostat down to its lowest setting I am unable to raise the temperature above 8 degrees celsius! I have looked for a differnt thermostat but as yet have found nothing suitable.

I have seem local meats cured with just palm sugar and salt and they are just placed in direct sunlight during the day and brought into the house at night until they are dried sufficiently The ambient temperatures here are between 28-32 degrees Celsius and the humidity is approximately 75-80 percent.

Regards,

Richard


Edited by tristar (log)

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I have looked for a differnt thermostat but as yet have found nothing suitable.

Do a search on the internet for a Johnson Controls A19AAT Thermostat. This is a $50 - $60 items that essentially bypasses your refrigerators thermostat. The unit has a socket that you plug your fridge into and a probe that you insert into the fridge. You set the temp on the unit and when the temp rises above your temp it will turn your fridge on and lower the temp. It works in a range of 20 to 80F or -7 to 27C. Also, for about $20 you can get a digital temp and humidity gauge with a probe so you can tell the humidity without opening the fridge. I haven't tried this, but you might be able to use any of the dry desiccant products like Indicating Silica Gel dry boxes. If you see the humidity climbing you could throw one of these in the fridge for a while. They can be dried out in the microwave and reused.


Edited by pounce (log)

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I have looked for a differnt thermostat but as yet have found nothing suitable.

Do a search on the internet for a Johnson Controls A19AAT Thermostat. This is a $50 - $60 items that essentially bypasses your refrigerators thermostat. The unit has a socket that you plug your fridge into and a probe that you insert into the fridge. You set the temp on the unit and when the temp rises above your temp it will turn your fridge on and lower the temp. It works in a range of 20 to 80F or -7 to 27C. Also, for about $20 you can get a digital temp and humidity gauge with a probe so you can tell the humidity without opening the fridge. I haven't tried this, but you might be able to use any of the dry desiccant products like Indicating Silica Gel dry boxes. If you see the humidity climbing you could throw one of these in the fridge for a while. They can be dried out in the microwave and reused.

Unfortunately I live in Indonesia, the utility power is 220 volt. also the number of companies in the US willing to trade with anybody located here is very low due to the high rate of credit card fraud! I will keep looking and I am sure I will be able to find something eventually! :sad:

Thanks for your suggestions though, I was planning along those lines.

Best Regards,

Richard

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I just threw away my half pig I had curing today.  Things were going bad from about three weeks in as I described in a thread or two on here.  I got some sausage and a pork loin out before things went drastically bad, which was really just lately, the last month or so, when three dimentions and lots of green and other molds were colonizing in full force, I could have probably saved the ham and belly if I moved them to the fridge for the summer, but I don't have room.  Next time I will at least lime everything and make sure the walls are sealed.  I like my dirt floor however, it keeps the temp down allowing for a nice long curing season here in the north east, mabye four months would need a cooler.

A dirt floor is not automatically bad (it makes a *fab* potato cellar from what I understand), but it *does* make it harder to keep things spotlessly clean for preserving.

Traditionally, in the northern hemisphere, pigs (and many other sorts of animals) were killed in the fall, and preserved meats were a way to save the bounty for/over the winter. Often a culture's traditonal butchering month would be "blood moon" or something similar. Without central heating the meat could be stored in a clean, cold area, and for much of the US cold meant *cold*. Preserving year round is (in a weird way) very anti-traditional. And most traditional things were done that way for a reason, generally because it was easier. Not less work necessarily, but screw ups would be less costly. The reasons for a meat hanging shed on a traditional farm would be easier to keep clean, less chance of contaminating stuff in the house, easy to add smoking facilities... Then the dirt floored cellar becomes storage for vegetables.

Emily

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I have looked for a differnt thermostat but as yet have found nothing suitable.

Do a search on the internet for a Johnson Controls A19AAT Thermostat. This is a $50 - $60 items that essentially bypasses your refrigerators thermostat. The unit has a socket that you plug your fridge into and a probe that you insert into the fridge. You set the temp on the unit and when the temp rises above your temp it will turn your fridge on and lower the temp. It works in a range of 20 to 80F or -7 to 27C. Also, for about $20 you can get a digital temp and humidity gauge with a probe so you can tell the humidity without opening the fridge. I haven't tried this, but you might be able to use any of the dry desiccant products like Indicating Silica Gel dry boxes. If you see the humidity climbing you could throw one of these in the fridge for a while. They can be dried out in the microwave and reused.

Unfortunately I live in Indonesia, the utility power is 220 volt. also the number of companies in the US willing to trade with anybody located here is very low due to the high rate of credit card fraud! I will keep looking and I am sure I will be able to find something eventually! :sad:

Thanks for your suggestions though, I was planning along those lines.

Best Regards,

Richard

Ok. Search for "Ranco Electronic Temperature Controller". It's the same sort of product and it does 220. Try ebay. Maybe you can use paypal to get around your issues.

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For cleaning surface/airborne mold and bacteria UVC lights might be useful. UVC kills a lot of things. The bulbs are now a lot less expensive than they used to be and there are a number of small consumer products with UVC lights. A person might be able to sanitize their fridge by putting a bare UVC bulb inside for some time (do not look at the light or reflected light or let light hit your skin). UVC kills bacteria and doesn't discriminate. There are small air cleaner with UVC lights integrated that don’t emit light outside of the unit (for safety reasons) that a person might be able to put in their curing box to keep air moving and kill any airborne nasties. I saw one for less than $50 at Sharper Image http://www.sharperimage.com/us/en/catalog/...s/sku__SM317BLU but I am sure there are others. For those DIY types UVC bulbs are available in various forms. Many small bulbs can be found intended for pond, aquarium or water purifiers. You can also find larger ones intended for air ducts. Just be careful. UVC is harmful to eyes and skin with very little exposure. I know I’d much rather switch a light on than scrub every inch of a fridge with bleach or some other harsh chemical.

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UVC is harmful to eyes and skin with very little exposure. I know I’d much rather switch a light on than scrub every inch of a fridge with bleach or some other harsh chemical.

Okay, and how does that make UVC different from a harsh chemical?

Anyway, with some normal construction plastic drop cloth, some PVC, and duct-tape, you could make yourself a reasonable enclosure (there are many variations on this theme), but it wouldn't hold up to a bunch of traffic.

And for your question, tristar, temperature is very important. That's why refrigeration was such a revolution. The better you can control the temperature, the better things will turn out.

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UVC is harmful to eyes and skin with very little exposure. I know I’d much rather switch a light on than scrub every inch of a fridge with bleach or some other harsh chemical.

Okay, and how does that make UVC different from a harsh chemical?

Anyway, with some normal construction plastic drop cloth, some PVC, and duct-tape, you could make yourself a reasonable enclosure (there are many variations on this theme), but it wouldn't hold up to a bunch of traffic.

And for your question, tristar, temperature is very important. That's why refrigeration was such a revolution. The better you can control the temperature, the better things will turn out.

It's just that we carry out our innoculation at elevated temperatures for an extended period of time, I would have assumed that as our ph decreased and our cured sausages dry they would become more resistant to bacterial growth rather than less.

Michael himself says in the book that humidity control is more important than temperature control I believe. I was just curious about how important temperature control is, as I said in my original post the locally dried meats are dried in the sun, and in South Africa Biltong is dried without the benefits of refrigeration!

Best Regards,

Richard

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UVC is harmful to eyes and skin with very little exposure. I know I’d much rather switch a light on than scrub every inch of a fridge with bleach or some other harsh chemical.

Okay, and how does that make UVC different from a harsh chemical?

No fumes. No toxic waste to get rid of safely. No risks of geting anything on you. No contorsion like scrubbing. Put the light in and flick the switch with the door closed. No safety issues using UVC in a closed space if you aren't in it. If you need to peek to see if the light is on many good quality sunglasses filter 99.9% of UVC. $5 will get you a pair of UVC safety glasses. It would not make sense to treat a basement or kitchen space with UVC, but a closed space like a fridge would be easy. UVC is just a suggestion as an alternate/complimentary method of cleaning.


Edited by pounce (log)

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      Any thoughts would be appreciated.
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