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KNOXVILLE — Consumers should reheat all processed meats, even those labeled as fully cooked, a University of Tennessee food safety researcher said recently.

Dr. David Golden said reheating luncheon meats to 160 degrees Fahrenheit greatly reduces chances of a listeria outbreak like the one prompting Pennsylvania-based Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. to recall 27 million pounds of poultry products. It was the largest meat recall ever.

“Even though the poultry products implicated in this outbreak are fully cooked there are guidelines on the package that tell the consumer to not only heat it thoroughly, but to heat it to a certain temperature,” Golden said.

“Even hotdogs are cooked, but you are supposed to cook them again to 160 degrees Fahrenheit to destroy any incidental contamination that occurred after it has been processed.”

Golden said pregnant women, small children and elderly people or anyone with a compromised immune system should not eat luncheon or sandwich meat, whether it has been cooked or not.

“One of the recommendations that regulatory agencies like the FDA and others have is that people in high risk populations do not eat processed lunch meats,” Golden said.

Some consumer advocacy groups argue that meats marked “fully cooked” create a false sense of security and should be discontinued.

But Golden said the best safeguard is for consumers to follow instructions and reheat or re-cook the product.

“The first and foremost thing I want to tell everybody is that I am a firm believer that food safety doesn’t fall just into the hands of the government,” Golden said. “It falls into the hands of the manufacturer of the foods but also the consumer.

“We have to understand that we have to watch out for ourselves, read instructions, cook food properly and be careful not to cross contaminate with raw foods, and never, ever take for granted that label that says ‘fully cooked’ and eat it right out of the package.”

Golden is an associate professor of food science and technology in UT’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, a researcher with the UT Food Safety Center of Excellence and associate director of the University Honors Program.