Although we’re approaching the end of summer, people have always been drawn to cooking and eating outdoors, having barbecues, and grilling food. Because outside environmental factors are not easily and consistently controllable, factors exist that impact the safety of the food prepared, served, and eaten outdoors. The availability of running water, potable ice, dependable cooking facilities, refrigeration units (portable or permanent), sun and wind shields, and cleaning supplies are just a few of these factors. Still, eating al fresco attracts many.
Roasting a whole pig is an al fresco activity that has attracted some media attention due to food safety challenges. Many cultures are used to cooking a whole pig either on a spit or in an oven. But cooking a whole pig is a complex process that inherently raises many food handling concerns (CIDRAP, 2015). This was evident when federal health officials issued a public health alert on July 31, 2015 about the risk of Salmonellosis linked to cooked whole pigs. As of July 23, 2015, there were 56 cases of foodborne illness from 8 counties linked to roast whole pigs.
Salmonellosis is a foodborne illness caused by the bacterium Salmonella spp. It occurs when contaminated foods from infected food animals or when feces from infected animals or persons are ingested. Salmonella is widespread among animals, especially poultry and pigs and their feces, and can be found in raw meats, water, and soil, and on insects and kitchen surfaces. Foods that have been implicated in the past include raw meats, poultry, eggs, milk and other dairy products, fish, shrimp, coconut, sauces and salad dressing, cake mixes, cream filled desserts and toppings, peanut butter, dried gelatin, cocoa, chocolate, and raw fruits and vegetables. Salmonella may be present in a person’s intestines for up to 3 days before any symptoms of the illness occur, after which the person may continue to harbor the bacterium from 4 to 7 days more. Although most people are susceptible to this foodborne illness, they usually recover without treatment. Those with compromised immune systems, such as the very young, the elderly, and those who are sick, may suffer severe symptoms. Acute symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, headache, and fever, lasting 1-2 days. According to the CDC (2013), salmonellosis was the most frequent infection in 2013 although the incidence was lower than in 2010-2012.
Fortunately, it is easy to prevent salmonellosis. Just remember to follow the recommendations of the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS).
Clean: Thoroughly clean kitchen work surfaces and utensils that have contacted the raw pig with soap and water before using for food preparation and serving. And always wash your hands with soap and water after handling animals or foods of animal origin and before handling food.
Separate: Obtain the pig from a reliable source and store it securely covered in a chiller until cooking. Do not store any food under the raw pig and ensure that there is clearance around the pig so that contact does not occur with other foods in the chiller.
Cook: Fortunately, salmonella is easily killed. Pork must reach 145°F throughout. A 3-minute rest period must follow to allow the temperature to rise to sufficiently prevent salmonellosis. This is the same cooking recommendation of the USDA for whole cuts of beef, lamb, and veal. Ground pork, beef, lamb and veal must be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F, while poultry must be cooked to 165°F.
Make sure you have a working food thermometer to follow these recommendations.
Chill: To serve whole roast pig safely, meat may be carved from the whole pig and slices placed under a heat lamp within 1-2 hours after cooking. After that time, transfer the meat from the carcass into clean shallow containers, cover, and refrigerate within 1-2 hours.
Outdoor cooking and eating can be safe and fun!
This guest blog was written by Dr. Aurora A. Saulo, Ph.D. Professor & Extension Specialist in Food Technology.
CDC. May 8, 2014. Trends in Foodborne Illness in the United States. An online report of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/foodborneburden/trends-in-foodborne-illness.html
CIDRAP. August 3, 2015. Washington Salmonella clusters trigger pig-roast health alert. An online news and perspective publication of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and policy. http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/newsperspective/2015/08/washington-salmonella-clusters-trigger-pig-roasthealth