Advice for the Annual Observance of Food-Poisoning, Umm, Thanksgiving Day

My grandparents — children of Irish and Scottish immigrants, for whom calories per penny was a much more important food value than fine cuisine — had a little mnemonic for Thanksgiving. It went like this:

Turkey, tetrazzini, ptomaine.

Perhaps that requires a little explanation.

The turkey part should be self-evident. Tetrazzini — a cream-sauce casserole based on spaghetti, one of those early 20th-century dishes invented to honor Italian opera stars — was what they did the second day with the turkey leftovers. Ptomaine (the “p” is silent) was what they worried lay in wait for them on the third. A late 19th-century term that has passed out of use, it derived from the notion that poisonous compounds lurked in rotting food.

For people who grew up before the antibiotic era — and who learned to cook when refrigerators were literal ice chests that kept things cool at best — “food poisoning” was a reasonable fear, and a risk they refused to take. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, no matter how delicious it appeared, whatever remained of the turkey went into the trash.

Decades later, we know much more about food-borne illness, and we have much better food-preservation technology — but we’re still at risk of food-borne illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put the annual incidence at almost 48 million cases, with almost 128,000 hospitalizations and more than 3,000 deaths. And though no public health agency assigns any percentage of those cases to big Thanksgiving meals featuring lots of food sitting around for hours, it’s clear they’re worried about it: The CDC, FDA and USDA all publish lengthy food-handling advice this time of year.

Fortunately, we have Ben Chapman and Matt Shipman.

The two friends, a professor and science writer at North Carolina State University, have teamed up on a series of short, accessible videos to coach Thanksgiving hosts through the illness-avoiding basics of turkey dinner and after.

Take a look. Say no to ptomaine.








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