Turkey left on counter – OK to cook? (need help fast!)

So we got a couple giant turkey legs, so we can pretend we’re at a renaissance faire (mmm!). Unfortunately, we left them on the counter a bit longer than we meant to. They were still cold to the touch, but not exactly frozen.

I’m not so much worried about them, but am curious about counter-defrosting in general. If I’m rinsing off the meat then cooking to proper temperatures, and I running any risk of salmonella? What about botox — isn’t it creepy-crawlies’ non-cookable waste product that does the doing in? Could we end up with puffy lips and eyebrows (we’ll make such beautiful corpses!)?

So I’m about to go heat up the oven to … to … wait. What am I supposed to do with these?



Cold to the touch? Shouldn’t be a problem.

How long was it left for? The whole point of defrosting meat is that it should end up “cold but not exactly frozen”, so it sounds like all you’ve done is defrosted the meat. I often defrost meat by leaving it out on the counter overnight, then putting it in the fridge in the morning and cooking it that evening. Hasn’t done me any harm yet.

You’re unlikely to get botulism from poultry. And even if it was present I believe the toxin is heat labile so it wouldn’t survive proper cooking.

The turkey should be fine, if you cook it properly.

The major risk with poultry, providing you cook it correctly, is contaminating other foodstuffs after handling it. I wouldn’t bother rinsing the meat, it just adds another opportunity to contaminate stuff (your sink, you, etc).

That’s the easy bit – any raw meat cutting (of any animal) is done on a meat board (which means nothing else touches it during cooking). All utensils are immediately washed, then sprayed with a bleach solution kept in a spray bottle under the sink. Nothing else is in the sink when that’s done (double sinks make this easy), and lastly, the sponge too is bleached (it also takes rides in the microwave on a regular basis).

So, let’s make it a bit more interesting. Say I have a boneless roast that came up to room temperature and sat like that for another few hours. Is botulism embedded throughout the meat or just on the surfaces? Is salmonella on raw meat ever a concern after proper cooking (and handling of utensils)?

Bacteria will only be found on the outside of meat. It is perfectly safe to eat red meat bleu. Ground meat is more problematic because any contamination on the outside will be neatly distributed throughout the ground meat during the grinding process.

C. botulinum is a soil bacteria, it isn’t a commensal organism like Salmonella or Campylobacter are. So you’re more likely to find it on vegetables or in honey than you are on meat.

Food poisoning is not a concern if the food is cooked, handled and stored correctly.

BTW I wouldn’t trust a microwave to disinfect anything. You may just be contaminating your microwave oven.

Why not?

Wow, are you sure you’re not overdoing it? Humans generally have a pretty good immune system. I don’t suppose you eat a lot of food out of stalls or carts in third world countries. I think I’ve only gotten food poisoning once or twice in my life. One of the times was eating a steak in rural Baja California that was about 100 miles from the nearest refrigerator. I should have stuck to the seafood! And I’ve eaten all kinds of food that was way sketchier than that steak.

Ummm… yeah. Generations of people have managed to get by while eating birds that have been hung up by the feet in an open-air butcher shop or market, carried home, kept in the kitchen for a while, and then cooked. Traditionally grouse would be ‘hung’ for up to a week to allow the meat to tenderise (i.e. rot). It’s not exactly a risk-free practice (far from it) but allowing meat to warm for a few hours is unlikely to make you sick.

C. botulinium is essentially harmless unless it is in a low-oxygen environment where it can grow and produce its toxin. That means somewhere like inside a can, sausage or if it’s got inside a piece of meat (which can happen). On the surface of a meat or vegetable where it is exposed to air it’s unlikely to be harmful (unlike say, salmonella). The classic danger scenarios for botulism are shoddy canning practices and things like sausages which combine ground meat (which is dangerous as you note) with an airtight wrapper.

Any foodstuff which is heated to be seriously piping hot all the way through is going to be as safe as you can make it - whether that’s done in a microwave, a saucepan or whatever is pretty much irrelevant. If you want to be 100% certain of heat-sterilising food you’re going to need to stick everything you consume in a pressure cooker or oven at 120+ centigrade.

Only in an oven or pressure cooker. You can cook it till the cows come home but unless you get it well above boiling point botulin will kill you good and proper - hence the rigorous measures put in place to prevent it forming.