dipping below "the safety zone" (fire went out overnight)

Discussion in 'Food Safety' started by khai, May 23, 2011.

  1. Last night I tossed a ~4kg brisket on the smoker @225 and went to bed after it had been rolling for a little under 2hrs.  In that time the temp had gone up to >130, and I assume that it continued to climb for some time.  When I awoke some 7hrs later I noted that the fire had gone out overnight.  The smoker was cool to the touch and my probe thermometer read ~56.  I cleaned up the smoker and re-fired it, and threw the meat back on.  It's been going for a little under 2hrs and the meat is now just shy of 140.

    I'm not sure when the fire went out so I don't really know how long the meat was cooling - but I'd guess a few hours at least (it was pretty cool out last night - maybe 45deg?).

    Assuming I finish the smoke and take the meat back up to 185/200, is it safe to eat?  It was rubbed, not injected - though I did stick the probe in when I first put it on the smoker...
  2. smokinal

    smokinal Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    I would not eat it, if it fell below 140 for several hours there's a chance that bacteria had a chance to grow. I'm sure one of our resident food safety experts can give you a better answer, but it's always better to err on the side of caution. Got any neighbors you don't like? Give them a taste to check it out.
  3. pineywoods

    pineywoods Smoking Guru Staff Member Administrator Group Lead SMF Premier Member

    That would be up to you but I personally wouldn't eat it or serve it to anybody else. I would chalk it up as a learning experience and either not do overnight smokes or stay awake or set the alarm to get up and check on things every couple hours. The price of the meat just isn't work the risk to me
  4. scarbelly

    scarbelly Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    There is no way I would eat or serve that meat. It is not worth the chance of going to the hospital. Go ahead and smoke it for the practice but toss it when you are done  
  5. alblancher

    alblancher Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    How's you insurance?  Oh thats right, you live in Canada   

    Just Kidding guys.  no one wants food poisoning.  I have been so sick from bad food I hugged a toilet for two days and trust me,  nobody wants to do that! 

    If you knew how long the cooking chamber stayed hot, or how long the internal temp of the meat was below 140 we may have a shot at helping you but there are too many variables to give you safe advice.   If you do a search on this forum you will find many discussions about whole cuts of meats where the surface temperature reaches I believe 160 that are considered safe even if the internal temps stay low.  These discussions are more appropriate to things like steaks that are not nearly as thick as brisket and do not have the same fat cap.   So be careful.

    Everybody that has responded to your post to this point are well respected on this forum and I would take their advice
  6. Aw, bummer - I was hoping that by bringing the temp back up to "high enough" for "long enough" that I'd be able to save it.  That sucks.  But, that's also why I asked you guys...

  7. It just dawned on me that I got up at ~02:00 to check it and everything was cool (smoker was holding @~225 and the brisket was ~150).  That's a ~4.5hr window in between when everything was cool and when I found it actually cool to the touch (but not stone cold) in the morning.  

    Any chance of saving this?
  8. alblancher

    alblancher Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    So the brisket got to 140 within 4 hours and the only problem was that sometime between 2 am and when you woke up the fire went out and the smoker started losing heat.  Outside temps where around 45 degrees.   Is that correct?  Once the internal temp reaches 140 you have some flexibility.
  9. get smoked

    get smoked Fire Starter

    I guess it all depends on how hungry you are.  Have you ever seen SurvirorMan?  I've seen that guy stumble upon an old fish discarded by an eagle on a deserted beach.  God knows how old that fish was, but he ate it. 

    All kidding aside, from what i've read it sounds like your brisket got to 140 and then was "cool to the touch" 4.5 hours later.  You're probably good, but it is definately a risk.  The inside smoker temp was probably hot enough to kill anything on the surface of the meat, but I've heard that after a few hours in the "danger zone" you start to run into some trouble.  If it were me, I wouldn't eat it.  You should probably listen to some of these other guys that have way more experience than I do. 

    I just order the Maverick ET-732.  Maybe something like this would help?  Something with an alarm indicating grill/meat temps outside of a given range. 
  10. Yes, it definitely got over 140 in under 4hrs.  Under 3, I'm fairly certain (it was mid 130s after less than 2hrs).  At ~4hrs (when I woke up to check it) it was in the low to mid 150s.  The issue - or at least area of which I'm unsure is that somewhere after it hit 15x the fire went out and it cooled down to ~56 over a period of 4.5hrs (outside temps were in the low 40s).  I fired it back up and the temp went back over 140 in ~3hrs.  It is now ~168 some 6hrs after restarting (it went to 14x high pretty fast, and has been creeping since the mid 150s).  
  11. alblancher

    alblancher Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    Personally I think you are safe but I will withhold judgment until I get more feedback from the other members.
  12. That's pretty cool - a user-configurable high/low alarm would have prevented this problem (assuming I woke up when the alarm went off :p).

    I just got a new Taylor wireless thermometer and the blasted thing keeps turning off (the head unit).  I have no idea why but it's really annoying!
  13. Cool - thank you.  I'm having a bunch of people over tonight so I ran out and bought some stuff to cook something else quickly - but I left the brisket smoking in the hope that it was still salvageable. I'll keep the kids away from it for sure, and the one person who's flying tomorrow...  :p

    Out of curiosity, would freezing kill off any nasty bacteria?  I'm curious to know if these sort of issues are completely unsalvageable, or just not easily within a short timeframe.
  14. alblancher

    alblancher Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    Freezing works for most parasites.  Tricinosis is susceptable to freezing so you can make pork or venison jerky by following a freezing or heating technique.  Most bacteria produce spores that are resistant to freezing.  Also any toxins generated by the bacteria are not broken down by freezing.  So I guess the answer is no.

    Have you ever noticed that when you freeze a meal or meat that smelled a bit it still smelled a bit off after taking it out the freezer?  Specific treatments for specific bacteria can be found on the USDA website.  We speak in generalities because we seldom know what kind of pathogen you could be dealing with.
  15. So it's not actually the bacteria itself that's the issue, but rather the toxins that are produced as a result of the bacteria?  I'm thinking of fermenting beer as an analogy here - only the byproduct is detrimental rather than the goal?
  16. alblancher

    alblancher Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    That's kind of like saying it's not the bee sting that hurts, its the venom the bee injects into your skin.  You can kill bacteria with freezing.  But the spores produced by the bacteria will survive freezing and become bacteria again that will produce the toxins that are harmful.  Remember bacteria reproduce very fast that is why we suggest the 4 hour rule.  From the time the meat is taken off refrigeration to the time the meat is hot enough to kill the toxin producing bacteria or denature the toxins should be less then 4 hours.  4 hours because USDA has decided that is the best guess for how long it takes bacteria to produce enough toxins to be harmful.  If you read procedures for a health-care or long term care facility the guidelines can be much stricter.  Normal healthy people can take some liberties with these guidelines but what if 90 year old Aunt Bessie eats something that gets her sick and she can't recover as well or quickly as you and I.  Also remember if there are no pathogens in the meat to begin with it will take longer for the product to become infected and build up the levels that are harmful.  That is why the way we handle meat from the time it leaves the butcher to the time it gets served is very important

    You know every egg you eat has salmonella.  The problem is that sometimes the amount of salmonella is high enough in that egg that leaving it in the car to long, forgetting to put it back in the fridge or improper cooking can result in getting very sick.

    I can get most strains of flu, feel like crap for a couple of days and then go back to work.  An old or unhealthy person can get the flu and never again leave the bed on their own power.

    Don't know if this helps.  You need to be aware of food safety from beginning to end. 

    Some members take liberties with the standards we use.  They have the experience to know what else they can do to stay out of trouble.  But they have the obligation to assume you are not as experienced as they are and provide only the safest advice to you. 
  17. bearcarver

    bearcarver Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    If it was me, I would look at this like leftovers because you got it over 140˚, and then left it go back to 56˚. I would think it was below 140˚ for quite some time, if your smoker was cool to the touch, and your IT was at 56˚. Letting it sit out and cool to 56˚ is like letting leftovers sit out.

    Here is what the USDA says about that type of thing:

    Keep Hot Food Hot
    After cooking meat and poultry on the grill, keep it hot until served — at 140 °F or warmer. <<--------NOT down to 56˚.

    Keep cooked meats hot by setting them to the side of the grill rack, not directly over the coals where they could overcook. At home, the cooked meat can be kept hot in an oven set at approximately 200 °F, in a chafing dish or slow cooker, or on a warming tray.

    Refrigerate any leftovers promptly in shallow containers. Discard any food left out more than 2 hours (1 hour if temperatures are above 90 °F).

    I would chuck it.

    Just my 2 cents.

  18. I fully understand the position, especially as I am an unknown entity to everyone here.  After much consideration - and the post likening it to leftovers I decided that I was comfortable eating it.  I warned everyone and explained the background as well as the USDA recommendations and then presented it as an option (the only child isn't really into meat anyway - so keeping her away wasn't difficult).  Everyone loved it so as long as I didn't poison all my friends it was a big success.  I'll let you all know tomorrow if I should have thrown it out.  :p

    Thanks everybody!
  19. That's a very good way of looking at this situation; perfectly logical, and brought immediate clarity for me - thank you!  

    I'm perfectly comfortable leaving leftovers lying around for a long time.  I don't strive to do it, but it happens all the time.  Heck, I grew up in a house where I was taught to "let things cool on the counter before putting them in the fridge - putting hot things in the fridge just warms it up and then the fridge has to work overtime to cool it back down again".  I can see the health inspectors and writers of "best practices for food safety" clutching at their hearts, but that's what my mom always did - so maybe I've got a built up tolerance.  :p  

    Now that I think about it, it's pretty common for anything served at a party/large dinner to be sitting out for 3-5hrs easily from when it's served to when it's finally put away.  Sometimes a lot longer.  I'll keep that 4hr window to get to 140 in the forefront of my mind, however - as well as figuring out why my Traeger went out (it does have a digital controller) and why my blasted thermometer keeps turning off.  

    Thanks everyone!
  20. bearcarver

    bearcarver Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I might also suggest not taking a 7 hour nap during a smoke.


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