Stock tragedy

My freezers are perpetually full. I think this is a regular complaint here on MetaCookbook. No matter how hard I try to get them a little emptier, it seems I end up with freezers full to bursting.

One of the issues I normally have is stock. See, making stock is something I always think of as a way to clear out the freezer. Typically, this is because I have three to five chicken carcasses1 stuck in there, as well as chicken trimmings and the trimmings of veggies. My thinking is that this will get that stuff out of the freezer. The bags of trimmings, the big plastic containers of bones.

I never manage to consider how much stock will end up back in the freezer. Oops.

So, on Saturday, I realized I wanted to try my hand for the first time at beef stock. I had beef bones from previous meals. I had beef necks from way back that I realized I didn’t want to cook into food2. And I was walking to a butcher shop when I made this decision, so I was able to buy two huge and gorgeous knuckle bones. I was excited.

I mixed it together with roughly a metric crapload of water. I set it on to simmer and let it go. I skimmed foam off the top. I watched it carefully.

Many hours later, I checked it and realized it didn’t seem terribly warm, for all the foam I was getting. I touched my hand to the side, and found it merely warm to the touch. I turned the heat up a lot, and started polling my friends.

Long story short? This was a great way to empty out my freezer. Because, in the end, I decided to dump the stock.

In truth, I was pretty sure that a good, hard boil would take care of any nasties I’d grown in the time I’d not paid close enough attention to the heat.

But then my friend Jen found this link on food safety. She said (and I mostly agreed) that Staphylococcus aureus and Bacillus cereus were the major threats. S. aureus makes a heat stable toxin and B. cereus produces a heat-resistant spore. From there, I considered how likely I thought each pathogen was3.

Honestly, I was pretty sure my food-handling made S. aureus a non-issue, and B. cereus didn’t seem terribly likely either, given it’s association with starchy foods, rather than meat (and, unlike my chicken stock, this had no veggie trimmings in it, just meat and bone). So I was tempted to risk it.

But then I considered two things:

# If it’d been chicken stock, I would have dumped it the moment I realized it was merely warm. It was only because I was making stock that I make much more rarely and had cost me actual money (if in small amounts) that I started considering risking it. In light of that, I figured I should at least be consistent.
# Whether it’s comfortable to admit or not, I live in a land of food excess. I had, just a few days prior, been talking with a friend who feels terrible about food waste because there are starving people in this world. My counter to that was that I cannot directly send this food to them, and in my life, the biggest risk is taking in too many calories. Thus, if something isn’t healthful and/or tasty, it’s “not worth the calories”, and I don’t beat myself up for not eating it. If food can be thrown away without weighing on my conscience for merely not being “good”, taste-wise, I should allow myself not to hesitate to throw it out if it presents a reasonable risk of illness. I can feel bad about mishandling my food (and I do), but once that has happened, further guilt about tossing the food is pointless.

My big freezer is a little happier today, as it’s not so full. I’m a little happier, as I can get to things in and out of it more easily.

That said, I’ll be more careful in the future.

fn1. Okay, I’ve only once had five carcasses in there. Normally I try to make stock at three.

fn2. I don’t think I reported back on that experiment. I will! Now that I’ve realized the missed post.

fn3. This post was edited to change Clostridium perfringens to Bacillus cereus. When I went back to look at the link and remind myself of Jen’s concerns, I was sure she said C. perfringens, even though my whole focus before deciding to dump the stock was B. cereus. I thought this since C. perfringens is associated with meat where B. cereus is associated with starches. So I was convinced I was mixed-up. Nope. I had it right. Turns out the thing that’s missing from the link is that, like it’s buddy Clostridium botulinum, C. perfringens is anaerobic bacterium, so she wasn’t terribly concerned about it. I’m not anymore either.