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So I just finished preparing a perfect-looking steak, and as per usual, my apartment's hypersensitive smoke detector decided to go off. Not wanting to put the steak back into the pan, in one brilliant flash of boneheadedness, while I was scrambling for a rag to start whipping away the smoke, I dropped the steak in the only other vessel that was on the countertop - the same plate that was holding the meat before I cooked it.

I figured that since the inside has already been cooked, I could probably just sear the outside again on high heat for about 30 seconds to kill any surface bacteria that it might have picked up. Which I did. Doesn't really look any the worse for wear, but I haven't totally convinced myself that this is safe.

Anyone run into this scenario before and survived it? Is there anything else I can do to guarantee safety without totally ruining the steak?

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I'd have done the same thing -- just re-sear it. Of course, I'm willing to eat a rare steak, and I'm willing to eat Ethiopian food, so I might not be the best judge of this. –  Joe Aug 5 '10 at 2:13
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@Joe: I'll eat rare steak too, the bacteria's all on the outside. My main concern was that the bacteria on the plate might have multiplied a lot during the whole process making them more difficult to kill. Food safety is tricky business. I decided to re-sear it one more time and just eat it. I'll be sure to let you all know if I end up with convulsions and violent di... well, if I have any negative side-effects. –  Aaronut Aug 5 '10 at 2:28
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What's so daring about ethiopian? –  Ocaasi Aug 5 '10 at 2:34
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@Ocaasi, a typical Ethiopian dish is kitfo, which is essentially raw ground beef mixed with some spices. –  nohat Aug 5 '10 at 16:57
    
My dad seriously never uses a different plate after cooking steaks or burgers. Drives me up a wall but he will not changes his behavior. I think I need to make Alton Brown record a personal message telling him to 'stop it'. –  Katey HW Oct 10 '11 at 13:22

4 Answers 4

up vote 31 down vote accepted

If you're at all like me, you are reassured by hard numbers and measurables. This should help.

In this situation one of the likely pathogens would be one of the Salmonella species. Salmonella is killed by temperatures in excess of 130 F (55 C). However, it's not an instant death. The time to kill Salmonella decreases exponentially as the temperature increases.

The following table represents all the temperature and duration to kill 99.9999% of the most heat-resistant strain Salmonella senftenberg. This species is as much as 30x more heat resistant than a "normal" S. typhimurium.

   Temperature | Time
---------------|------
 140 F (60 C)  | 60m
 150 F (65 C)  | 10m
 160 F (70 C)  | <2m

For any given temperature the proportion of bacteria killed is constant. 1/6th the time kills 90%, 1/3rd kills 99%, 1/2 kills 99.9% etc.

USDA guidelines to kill Salmonella and E. Coli are as follows:

   Temperature | Time
---------------|------
 135 F (57 C)  | 86.4m
 140 F (60 C)  | 8.6m
 145 F (63 C)  | 2.7m
 150 F (65 C)  | 51.9s
 160 F (70 C)  | < 6s
 165 F (74 C)  | < 2s

So, needless to say, re-searing your steak at a typically high stove top temperature (at least 300 F [149 C]) for even a fraction of a second will result in utter devastation to whatever beastie population you may have picked up in recontaminating your meat. Chances are, if the steak came hot out of the pan, and you removed it from the plate quickly, the residual heat alone would be enough to kill it. The re-sear certainly doesn't hurt though.

A good rule of thumb is to wash plates as you go. If this is not possible or convenient you should minimally remove the plate from your vicinity by putting it in the sink or dishwasher as soon as you have taken the food off of it.

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I thought E.Coli was the most common pathogen on beef, with salmonella being more common in chicken. Either way, the hard numbers are definitely reassuring. I was actually also looking online for the percentage of beef that's actually contaminated in the first, but came up dry. Good work! –  Aaronut Aug 5 '10 at 14:19
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@Aaronut: You are correct, E. Coli is the most common pathogen found on beef. I'll revise my answer. I couldn't find similar specificity of data on E. Coli though. All I seem to dig up is that 160 F for any duration kills it. –  hobodave Aug 6 '10 at 7:03

How good's the meat? How long was it out of the fridge? I ask, because if you're really concerned, you can always consider the tartare extreme. Someone, somewhere is eating raw, red steak. Is your meat anywhere near good enough to think of it in that context?

Practically, it shouldn't take very long to re-sear the outside of a steak. Contact temperature on the pan is probably 300-400 degrees, which is instant death for bacteria. I'd eat it.

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Just a regular ribeye, no prime cut. Probably out of the fridge about 45 minutes. It was doused in clarified butter which was still on the plate. That's more hospitable to bacteria than I'd like, but then again, if there's not actual mold growing on it, it's pretty unlikely that it would survive another sear. Figured I'd ask anyway - better to be safe than sorry. –  Aaronut Aug 5 '10 at 2:25
    
I feel that when clarified butter is involved you've entered beyond the realm of mere safety, and certainly beyond the realm of regret. –  Ocaasi Aug 5 '10 at 2:38
    
I'm not sure how to interpret that reply - are you saying that it would make you worry more, or that it's too important to go to waste? –  Aaronut Aug 5 '10 at 2:43
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Way too delicious. If you're going to go down, go down in a hail of clarified butter. –  Ocaasi Aug 5 '10 at 2:56
    
If it were chicken or pork...or even hamburger, I'd worry, but not steak. 99.9% chance you could have eaten the whole thing raw and had no issues of any kind. Good betting odds. –  Satanicpuppy Aug 5 '10 at 13:52
  1. Assuming you weren't using a slow cooking method, the plate wasn't sitting on the counter for very long.

  2. The steak was still probably pushing a small amount of liquid out. So it likely didn't actually absorb any juice into the interior of the steak.

  3. Assuming a relatively small amount of juice and a medium rare steak, I would guess the steak itself already raised any juice that did manage to make it inside to a safe temperature.

  4. Re-searing would definitely finish off any bacteria on the surface.

All in all, I don't see any harm done. To prevent a similar accident in the future, get your serving dish ready before the steak is done. A good time is to put the plate near the stove/grill when you're flipping the steak over.

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Thanks - I usually do have a serving dish ready, this was a rare incidence of carelessness. –  Aaronut Aug 5 '10 at 2:42

The following link leads to a podcast where food scientist Dr. Benjamin Chapman discusses e-coli, listeria, norovirus, and other lovely pathogens. Some insight into cooking meat and food safety.

http://5by5.tv/dailyedition/7

also:

http://amazingribs.com/tips_and_technique/meat_temperature_guide.html

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