Do Not Rinse Your Chicken

Is your raw chicken full of nasty bacteria?

Is your raw chicken full of nasty bacteria?

WHAT?!?!?!?

This is a direct quote from the FDA website.

“Do not rinse raw meat and poultry before cooking. “Washing these foods makes it more likely for bacteria to spread to areas around the sink and countertops,” 

I heard this the other day and thought no way.   It must be an urban or internet legend.   The “trust no one” cynic in me went straight to the FDA page and found out yep they did sure say this.    The thoughts that race through my mind when I read this are somewhat frightening.

  • In this era of we need smaller government we have gutted our food inspection process.   We have so few government inspectors that they can no longer do the job the public assumes they are doing.   Instead we are depending on the meat industry to police themselves.    Think about all the food-borne illness that comes from meat claimed to be USDA Inspected.   Asking a meat packer to inspect the meat they are processing is like asking a fox to guard a hen house.   Not happening.  The bottom line at the meat packing house is profit.
  • The fact such a broad statement is made is makes me think that most of our meat is more likely than not to be a carrier of some kind of bacteria that could cause illness.   So odds the  your meat carries bacteria, and the meat processor and the USDA are depending on you to fully cook the meat without poking the surface to prevent illness.   FYI – You supposed are too turn your steak with a tongs not a fork!  That fork tine might take bacteria to the inside of your medium steak and make you sick.   Yuck!
  • The inside of a whole chicken has all sorts of nasties left inside them.  I am not talking the giblet bag folks, but that junk attached inside the chest cavity.   Commercial processing does a darn crummy job of finishing a chicken.   I am always amazed at how much ‘guts’ are left inside whenever I see a store bought chicken.   As someone who processes her own chickens I can tell you it takes just a few seconds with a hose to get the last of  that connective and organ tissue caught there inside the bird out.   I always wonder why they leave something ripe to grow things behind, but they do.   It seems to me a prime bacteria growing place, that 30 seconds of spraying with water could get rid of. Gross, double gross!
  •  Look at your packing and you will almost find this universally, “Water added for processing.”  Do you know what this means?   Your store bought chicken is first of all cooled in a communal dunk tank, and from the sounds of it with their innards intact.   When I am done fully dressing my chickens, I admit I throw them in a cold water bath, but only until I am done with the batch I am butchering.   Then they are taken out and dry aged in the refrigerator.     Based on personal experience I don’t get how they can absorb so much water unless left a long time in that communal water.  What a wonderful place to spread bacteria, and get absorbed in to the meat/muscle tissue of the bird.   Also because chicken is sold by the pound what a great way to inflate the price!   Here is the explanation from the FDA page on this water added statement.

    “Poultry is not injected with water, but some water is absorbed during cooling in a “chill-tank,” a large vat of cold, moving water. The chill-tank lowers the temperature of the slaughtered birds and their giblets (hearts, livers, gizzards, etc). During this water chilling process, turkeys and chickens will absorb some of the water, and this amount must be prominently declared on the label. It is not unusual for poultry to declare 8 to 12% retained water on the label.”

I know I have blogged on this before, but I do come back to this again because I think it is important for consumers to think about where their food comes from and how it is handled.   I am lucky because we are able and willing to raise and butcher our own chickens; we know the woman who raises our lamb,  know the rancher who raises our grass-fed beef, and lastly know Dan our butcher, who slaughters and cuts our meat just as we want it. At our house we are are willing to acknowledge and cook our meat based  the fact that they are different than commercially raised chickens and feedlot cattle and lamb.   Most folks don’t have these luxuries.    Many of  you have no choices on your meat; your store gives you no options; your budget does not allow you to be choosy.   What I hoping this blog will do is allow you to be aware that your food isn’t  guarantee to be safe just because it came from a store or has the USDA Inspected seal on it.   Ask your store if they can make some options available to you including dry aging of your chicken.  Seek out a relationship with a small farmer or person at your local farmer’s market.   Lastly treat the meat in your home with great care to prevent cross contamination.  There is no perfect situation and we all have to make choices regarding money and time, both of them in short supply.   Carry on and make the best choices you can for your dinner plate.

Introductions – Buff Orpington

10 day old Buff Orpington

10 day old Buff Orpington

Over the next weeks I will posting photos of my assorted flock and sharing with you information about the various breeds   I have pages about what I have done on past years with tabs at the top “Backyard Chickens.”  I am sharing this to help inform folks who have never had a flock about what you might expect…the good…the bad…and the ugly.

Buff Orpington is supposed to be the Golden Retriever of the chicken world.   Golden, friendly and plays well with all others. It is a solid golden bird, with a heavy build.     It is a breed that originated in the UK.  It is considered a dual purpose bird, meaning that it lays well and could just as easily be Sunday dinner.     It is a favorite of backyard flocks because of these traits.   Up until now I have not tried it because….it was solid in color and I really like my little flock to be “interesting” feathered.   It is also known to be a broody, it would like to hatch some eggs, something I am not interested in.   

At this age the feathers in her wings are coming in at that amazing golden color they are known for.   We are not seeing any chest or tail feathers.   In the flock of birds she is in she is one of the crowd.   She is neither wild, nor timid.

Knowing Where Your Meat Comes From

There are not many true butcher shops left today.

This week with all the horse meat controversy going on in Europe it made me think again about how important it is to know where your food comes from.  It is something that none of us can do all the time, but maybe we should spend a little more time thinking about how we can take baby steps in the right direction.   Lots of baby steps can together make a big difference.  Now days so many folks have no idea about where there meat comes from.  We have pre-cut meat coming to our supermarkets ready packed  in those Styrofoam containers, some injected with gasses to keep them looking better longer.   We in this country want good cheap meat.   I would argue that cheap and good don’t go together.   It doesn’t have to be outrageously expensive, but you do get what you pay for.

In high school I read “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair.  It forever tainted my view of the US food system.   It was a novel written to expose the plight of the working poor, but the pictures he painted in my mind of the Chicago meat industry have never left my mind.    I have always though much more about where all my food comes from ever since.  During the Clinton administration,  we for the most part returned meat inspection to an honor system by processing industry.   We have fewer food inspectors on the US payroll and we are having repeated cases of contaminated food in our consumer food system being reported.   I question if self policing is in our best interest. 

Think just a few years ago pink slime was in the news here in the US.   Now it has blown over.  Pink slime may be gone, but if you don’t believe that something else has replaced it  I would have to say you are deluding yourself.   Those big meat packing houses are looking at the bottom line, and not looking into your face as they hand you ground beef you just ordered like the local butcher shop.   If you wonder why ground beef in the roll is so much cheaper, than the stuff at Sam the  butcher’s shop, ask yourself are they really both the same quality.  I doubt IBP or some other big packing house really cares about what you think or say.   Sam the local butcher knows that if he has crappy meat it will get around town and he won’t be in business long. 

Growing up we did not live on a farm, nor grow our own meat.   My parents did work with local sources and would buy a whole beef or hog and have it butchered locally.   In the rural area I grew up in almost every town had a meat locker and a local butcher.    Once your was cut and wrapped we would bring some to our home freezer but most of it was stored at the local meat locker.  We could not store that much meat at home.       For you those who are unfamiliar with the term a meat locker was a place generally owned by the local butcher.   They came into play when electricity in the country wasn’t so common and even if it was a freezer in the home large enough to hold your beef was not easily found.  Local butchers had large walk-in cooler/freezers to age beef that they would cut and sell. This huge room that was the walk-in freezer also had rows of baskets you rented to store your frozen goods.   You then put a padlock on the basket  so only you have access; hence the term meat locker.

Today we source our beef and lamb from  local ranchers.   Our chickens are  from our own flock.   Fish at our house comes from local streams, rivers and lakes.   That is not possible for everyone.  The reasons are many why not everyone can do that.   What I am hoping you will think about after this article,  is that frequently your local butcher or meat shop may be one of those baby steps you can take.   It may not be as convenient as the supermarket in your city.   It likely won’t be quite as cheap.   I am thinking you will  know a little more about how your meat has been handled, and at the same time support a small business owner.   Pretty good combination in my book.   Hope so for you too. .

Flock Dynamics

I have written before about pecking order and how it impacts the interactions of the hens in a flock.   Tonight I am writing about how removing birds also impact flock dynamics.  Chickens are animals for  whom change is unwanted and upsets life dramatically.   My flocks are always a little in flux as each year there is a period of time while there are two flocks;  the flock who stayed over the winter and the chicks born the spring of this year to replace them.  Butchering is another  thing that upsets a flock because we remove elements of an established  flock.

Though we butchered hens that had been broody and out of the flock for over a month this year the members of their  flock noticed immediately they were missing today.  The reminder of the old flock was looking to make peace with the littles.   They were often found today wandering together.   The old girls were hanging out in where I would expect to find the littles and visa versa.  The other thing I noticed today is that the hens are unsure they are allowed in the nest boxes.   After weeks of fighting to get into the boxes and the broody hens hogging the space to lay eggs, the remaining birds seem to be unsure that it is ok to approach the nest boxes now that they are all empty.

We still have five more hens who need to go and so I am guessing that this flock will be in lots of upheaval for weeks to come.   We are currently at 11 and need to be down to six by the time the snow flies.

New Software – New Hardware

I have had a Wacom pen tablet for years and had a love hate relationships with it.   I loved what it could do and I hated the fat nib.   My employer recently bought a newer version and today I have been working on getting used to the differences including the wonderful small nib.    At the same time I have been getting use to my upgrade in Photoshop Elements.

These two upgrades caused me to go find my favorite exercise book and start to work my way through it again.   Some of it is very easy, i.e. black and white and sepia color photographs.   Others I have to read the steps a couple of times to make sure I get it right and then look at how this new tablet works settings work as well.  Sometimes is fun and other times it is frustrating as I don’t seem to know how to get it just wright or….right.   It seems like it should be the same but it isn’t.

In the next few days or weeks watch here for some of my play projects.   Here is one from today.

Here is a Blue Laced Red Wyandotte Pullet showcased on a black and white background.   I used layers, decoloring, eraser tool, the zoom tool, the color saturation and hue tools to do this.   What I learned in this case is a blue color for a bird is really more grey and not necessarily the best choice for this kind of project.   I learned about the touch feature on my new Wacom, and how to turn it on and off to serve my needs.   Not bad, and I did not once want to run out in traffic while doing this.