DEAR ABBY: My uncle, who is in his 80s, loves to cook and is very good at it. He took up cooking after my aunt died. He won't pay any attention to what I tell him, but he reads your column daily, so perhaps he will listen to you.
My uncle thaws his frozen meat and poultry in his gas oven, with only the pilot light. I have told him repeatedly that this is the way bacteria grows on meat, but he insists that cooking it will sterilize it.
He also leaves food on the buffet or the kitchen counter after he entertains, so that his guests can help themselves to "leftovers." It's sometimes left out all night.
Abby, he frequently gets an upset stomach, and I have a hunch that it's a mild case of food poisoning. Please, can you help me wise him up? He has tuned me out completely. -- LOVING NIECE IN OKLAHOMA CITY
DEAR LOVING NIECE: Your uncle is lucky to have such a caring niece. I hope he will listen to me. I checked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and according to Bessie Berry, the acting director of the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, it's best to thaw food IN THE REFRIGERATOR where it will be maintained at a safe, constant temperature. That's because bacteria multiply rapidly between temperatures of 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and any bacteria that may have been present before the meat was frozen can begin to grow again.
Food should NEVER be left at room temperature for more than two hours -- and in weather above 90 degrees, the time should be reduced to one hour maximum. Leftover food should be placed in shallow containers and placed directly into the refrigerator or freezer. Theoretically, food is "sterilized" by the heat that cooks it. However, that is not true if the meat or poultry is not cooked thoroughly.