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part of any meat supply, even in the country, comes from the great packing houses of the Middle West.
Recourse must be had to the wild lands of the semiarid regions for ranches, and large packing houses must be placed within reach of the ranches in order to save the transportation of so much live weight; for an animal when dressed shrinks to less than half its weight, and of this no more than one-half goes as meat to the city markets.
The various reports on the packing houses and the discussions of them in the papers have brought the question so vividly before the country at large that there is no need of repeating it here.
It is the demand for meat and the necessity for its long transportation, together with an unwillingness to pay the price of cleanliness (as in the case of milk), which has led to abuses now in a fair way to be remedied.
There is danger, however, of the public relying on the crusade against unclean methods of packing to give a safe product on the table.
Perishable foods must be guarded from start to finish if they are to be eaten with safety. The meat must be kept clean from the time it leaves the packing house until it reaches our tables. The retail meat dealer should have means to keep uncontaminated the stock of meat that he gets from the wholesale dealer.
In the few cities where public-spirited women have looked into the markets there have been revealed low standards of sanitation as bad as anything published about the packing houses.
Another danger is from the exposure of meats in warm weather to flies. In spite of cook books, meat from the open market ought to be washed (not soaked, but washed clean), and then dried with a cloth. But if the meat is kept under cover on a counter the storage place must be ventilated, since decay sets in sooner in the warmer, close air.
In cleaning meat, all creases and flaps should be carefully looked to and clots of blood removed, for such harbor the organisms of decay. In institutions, boarding houses, and kitchens where much work goes on the tendency is to neglect such matters.
One precaution must be given : Such washed meat should be put at once into the pot or oven, since a watery surface that favors bacterial action is substituted for the dried film of the long exposed surface. A case of severe illness known to the author was undoubtedly caused by the washing of pieces of fowl for fricassee the night before they were cooked and leaving them packed in a mass.
Protection against diseased meats we must leave to the inspectors, for this should be done at the time of killing, or again in the large markets. In this matter the people should be protected from the greed of any dealer as well as from accidental overlooking of cases.
Cooked meats exposed for sale should be always kept from flies, since such are not washed before eating.
The housewife's duty is concerned not so much with the packing house, but rather with the whole period, from the time when the meat leaves the cold storage and is exposed for sale till it reaches her own refrigerators and cooking vessels and is served on her table.
In the market she can insist upon cleanliness in handling, can agitate the matter of hot water for cleaning the hands, can see that non-absorbent paper is always used, that there is a quick removal of all waste, and the shortest possible exposure of raw surfaces.
If the slaughter house were as aseptic as a hospital operating room, and if the meat were placed in the refrigerator car in a perfect condition, it would not, with present careless and ignorant habits, come to our tables in a fresh condition. Some change goes on during the long journey even in the cold. The warm, dusty air of the meat market where it is exposed for sale, the dirty hands coming in contact with it in a dozen ways before it reaches the consumer's kitchen, the woeful lack of cleanliness in most kitchens (I say “most " advisedly from a bacterial standpoint), account for the many cases of ptomaine poisoning that we read of.
It is much to be desired that Farmers' Institutes should take up the matter of hot water and clean hands in reference to the whole question of clean and safe food. As was said in regard to milk, the old-time care of the farmer's wife has been replaced in too many cases by ignorant "help,” who innocently allow many unsanitary practices which a little teaching would correct.
It is fortunate that the odor of putrefaction is so pronounced that a cultivated sense of smell
detect danger. Custom has sanctioned so "high" a flavor, however, that poultry especially is frequently set before one in an evident state of decomposition. Some of the worst cases of ptomaine poisoning on record have been caused by eating soup made from such fowls. These toxic substances are not destroyed by heat and are soluble, so that while the meat itself may frequently be eaten with impunity, the broth causes illness.
The sale of poultry is becoming a matter of strict legislation. Authorities differ, as usual, regarding the comparative danger from the easy access of bacteria to drawn poultry, or from the decomposition of the undrawn entrails.
“Ordinarily poultry will remain sweet for a week or more in a temperature of 50° F., but if it is to be kept longer it must be stored in a dry place at a temperature no higher than 34° F. In such cold storage it will keep almost indefinitely.” 1
It is to be feared that advantage has sometimes been taken of this fact to keep poultry “almost indefinitely."
If drawn carelessly, bits of liver or lungs are left and easily decay, and parts become infected by unclean hands, and slow decomposition goes on to burst into flame, as it were, while the article is in transit to the consumer. The Southern practice of killing as needed has much to recommend it from this point of view.
There is a certain risk of rapid decomposition of cold storage meats in hot weather which may be avoided by the use of superficial preservatives. If the meat was properly washed this would do no great harm, but too many cooks do not clean the surface sufficiently.
Cured meats, salted, smoked, and dried, should, of course, be prepared from sound material. The frequency with which bad tongue and corned beef are found leads to the conclusion that local butchers are careless. There is a temptation to put into the brine for corned beef meat that is too far gone to sell otherwise.
1 Farmers' Bulletin No. 180.
Meats once decayed cannot be made fit for human food by any process. To find out that they are spoiled is the cook's province before they go into the pot.
Sausages readily lend themselves both to filling and preserving In fact, a bright-colored meat is always to be suspected.
Some preservatives, notably sulphites, prevent the odor and appearance of decay but permit a softening and deterioration of the fiber; others applied to meat already in process of decay may retard the exterior changes sufficiently to prevent a decided odor and leave the interior in an unfit condition.
The great danger of these toxic products of meat decay may well make it a crime to place on the market cuts with a possible taint.
The same general remarks apply to game and fish. There must be freshness and care in handling and cleaning before cooking, and an examination for spots already in process of decay.
If salted and cured fish are always soaked before preparing for the table, any borax or other preservative that may have been used will be washed off.
A word may be welcome on the much discussed subject of oysters and clams.
It seems incredible that any one would even consider fattening oysters under the mouths of sewers or digging