Many millennials will turn 30 years old this year. Rather than lament this milestone, the experts of the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline revel in the celebration. July marks the 30th anniversary of the hotline, and to commemorate, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is highlighting the Hotline’s accomplishments.
Hotline experts keep the public safe from foodborne illness when they answer calls on all sorts of food safety topics. Routinely they answer consumers’ questions about recalls and safe internal cooking temperatures. In fact, since its inception in 1985, the Hotline has handled more than 3 million calls from the public.
A good portion of those calls were fielded by 27-year hotline veteran Marianne Gravely. “I’ve probably answered certain questions thousands of times,” said Gravely. “I started in April 1988. That’s before the Internet! At the time, we provided food safety information only by phone because they couldn’t look for answers on a web site.”
Top Five Food Safety Questions
- How long can I keep meat in the refrigerator?
- How long will cooked food stay safe in the refrigerator?
- Is food safe if left out overnight?
- How long can I keep a turkey (or any food) in the freezer?
- What is the safe internal temperature for cooking meat and poultry?
Typical questions consumers ask USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline are related to the basics of food safety: the storage time of meat and poultry in the refrigerator and freezer, whether a certain food item is safe if left out on the counter overnight, and what is the safe cooking temperature for meat or poultry. The Hotline also receives questions related to food safety during or after a power failure, and November is its busiest time of the year. Representatives hear every possible question related to the buying, storage, handling and cooking of turkey.
During the month of November the Hotline receives more than 2,000 calls mostly related to the buying, storage, preparation and cooking of turkey for Thanksgiving Day. This is twice the number of calls it gets during an average month for the rest of the year (1,000 per month).
Adapting New Technology
“When the Hotline started, the toll-free phone service was the most up-to date method of reaching consumers; now we communicate with them across all sorts of media,” said Tina Hanes, Hotline manager and food safety technical information specialist. FSIS has kept up with the times, and now consumers can query the hotline with live chat online, via email, and through the ‘Ask Karen’ application on their phones. “We will continue to provide food safety answers to customers’ questions wherever the future leads us.”
Even with all of the food safety resources available to consumers today, the Meat and Poultry Hotline remains a highly relevant tool.
“It means a lot to consumers that they can call a toll-free phone number and speak to a real live person,” said Gravely. “Sometimes there are questions and situations that are not easily answered by e-mail or searching the web. That’s why we’re here.”
Inquiring meal planners can reach out to live hotline agents toll-free at, 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854). Services are available in English and Spanish from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.
Millennials and consumers of all ages can also review their food safety knowledge with USDA’s virtual food safety representative, Ask Karen at AskKaren.gov. For folks who need information on storage times for foods in the refrigerator or pantry the USDA’s FoodKeeper app is available for Android and iOS devices.