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Cooking at low temperatures

April 27, 1999

We ran readers' favorite chicken recipes on the Food page last week. Pat Small of Clear Spring was kind enough to send her recipe for Golfer's Chicken. She even took the time to make it for our photograph. It sounds good, easy, and it looks delicious.

[cont. from lifestyle]

The recipe offered two cooking options: Bake at 225 degrees for 4 to 5 hours - thus the name, Golfer's Chicken ... put it in the oven and then play golf ... or bake at 375 degrees for 1 hour.

A reader called to tell us that she thought cooking chicken at such a low temperature could be dangerous.

She's right.

To be safe, the rule is to cook poultry or meat at temperatures no lower than 325 degrees, says Lynn Little, family and consumer sciences extension educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County - University of Maryland. Cooking meat at low temperatures for a long time can encourage growth of bacteria. Meat cooked long enough at low temperatures may be done, but not safe, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service Web site at www.fsis.usda.gov. Today, with the availability of fresher foods, color is not a good indicator. The turkey may be pink but done, Little says.

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So how do you know for sure?

Little recommends using a meat thermometer to check the temperature of the meat. That can take the guesswork out of cooking, according to the Fight Bac Web site of the Partnership for Food Safety Education at www.fightbac.org.

Which temperatures are safe for which meats? Little provided the following guide of what temperatures meats should reach:

Ground chicken or turkey - 170 degrees; chicken, whole or pieces - 180 degrees; turkey breast - 170 degrees; ground beef - 160 degrees; beef roast or steak - 145 degrees for medium rare; 170 degrees for well done.

The joy of cooking in a slow cooker is that you can throw in all the ingredients, let them cook at a low temperature all day, and dinner will be ready when you get home. Doesn't this go against the safety rule?

Because a slow cooker is a small and contained enclosure, it heats up very quickly to temperatures high enough to be perfectly safe, according to Little, who backed up her information with a call to USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-800-535-4555. Start the slow cooker on high for an hour or so, then cook for four to six hours instead of the eight to 10 if you were cooking on low from start to finish. She offers one caution: To slow cook a roast, cut it into smaller pieces to assure that it reaches a safe cooking temperature.

- Kate Coleman, Staff Writer

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