"So what's the name of the restaurant?" he wanted to know. "We'll want to go check that out." I asked if anything was wrong. Ramirez told me that section 114004 of the California Health and Safety Code required restaurants to cook poultry to an internal temperature of 165 degrees for at least 15 seconds to ensure that salmonella, campylobacter, and other pathogens were killed.
What about steak? I asked. Well, said Ramirez, checking the code, the allowed temperature was slightly lower but the meat still needed to be fully cooked. And beef tartare? I pressed. Sushi? Was chicken tartare treated differently in the health code from other raw meats?
Ramirez referred me to the California Health and Safety Code online and said, "If the restaurant is varying from what the code allows they would need to put together a HACCP [Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points] plan."
I believe that local and state health departments probably save the lives of millions of eaters every year. I also realized I'd just tattled on chef Geideman. Galvanized by a sense of urgency, I took up the search again.
The first piece of good news: After poring over the state code, which makes Robbe-Grillet read like US Weekly, I found the section dealing with tartare. Section 114093 states:
Notwithstanding Section 114004 ... ready-to-eat foods made from or containing eggs, comminuted meat, or single pieces of meat, including beef, veal, lamb, pork, poultry, fish, and seafood, that are raw orIppuku had met (b), so it seemed the restaurant was fully in the clear. That didn't, however, answer my initial question. A round of phone calls ― the CDC, the FDA, back to the USDA ― finally put me in touch with Kathy Bernard, spokeswoman for the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline. I explained Geideman's preparation to her and asked about its safety.
have not been thoroughly cooked as specified in Section 114004 may be served if either of the following requirements is met:
(a) The consumer specifically orders that the food be individually prepared less than thoroughly cooked.
(b) The food facility notifies the consumer, orally or in writing, at the time of ordering, that the food is raw or less than thoroughly cooked.
In poultry, the prevalence of salmonella is higher ― the legal limit for poultry processors is that less than 20 percent of the birds may be contaminated. In some processors, they may have lower rates ― like 5 or 7 percent."
"But those rates are probably for confined chickens," I countered. "These chickens are pasture raised, and probably organic. Does that make a difference?"
"We'd like to think it does, but sadly, it doesn't," he replied.
So Thippareddi says he wouldn't eat the chicken tartare. But as he stated in his last e-mail, "We
all take risks in life. I suppose this is one of those 'acceptable'
risks for some of us. However, I don't think you will ever find me eating
steak tartare or sushi [knowing the risks]."
I sent a draft of this post to Christian Geideman yesterday morning and asked if he would be willing to talk to me about the issue, but haven't heard back. In the meantime, I do eat beef tartare and sushi ― quite frequently, in fact ― and since the safety of Ippuku's chicken tartare is ultimately a question of risk tolerance, it's a delicious risk I'll take again. I wish my research had yielded the kind of assurance I'd hoped for. Given Thippareddi's caution, though, it seems prudent to recommend anyone who has a compromised immune system avoid chicken tartare ― as well as beef carpaccio, kitfo, salmon tartare, or sushi.