Cooking up safe chitlins

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

The holiday festivities are nearing a finale, but many families are looking forward to one last food splurge.

For some, the New Year’s tradition will include chitterlings, called chitlins and otherwise known as pig intestines. Throughout the South, the pork dish is a mainstay year-round on many dinner tables and at convenience stores where they’re often displayed in a jar in the familiar company of pig feet.

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The Virginia Department of Health hopes that meals including chitlins will not leave partakers sick. To avoid such an occurrence, health officials are urging cooks to take precautions.

&uot;When preparing chitterlings the best way to avoid bacterial contamination and illness is to buy them pre-cooked,&uot; recommends State Health Commissioner Dr. Robert Stroube. &uot;If raw chitterlings are used, they should be pre-boiled for five minutes. Pre-boiling makes cleaning chitterlings easier and faster and doesn’t change the taste.&uot;

Suffolk resident Terrance Britt, the former owner of the closed soul food eatery Terrance’s Caf\u00E9 on East Washington Street, has cooked his share of chitterlings. He still cooks them regularly for family and friends, though the dish is not among his favorites.

&uot;I cook them but I don’t like the smell,&uot; said Britt.

Stroube warns that bacteria in chitterlings can cause severe diarrhea, especially in infants. Chitt-erlings may contain the Yersinia bacteria, which can be spread by hand or from eating or drinking contaminated food or liquids.

&uot;Preparing chitlins is a lengthy process,&uot; said Stroube. &uot;Contam-ination within the home is hard to avoid. Baby food or formula should not be prepared or handled while preparing chitterlings.

&uot;Infant formula or food should not be placed anywhere near raw chitterlings in the refrigerator. The Yersinia bacteria are different than many bacteria, because they multiply and spread even in the code.&uot;

Yersinia can cause severe diarrhea, bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain and fever. Symptoms usually begin within three to seven days after contact with the bacteria. Infants and small children who contract yersiniosis may require hospitalization, although the illness rarely causes death. Older children and adults may experience appendicitis-like pain.

The Virginia Department of Health recommends the following tips:

-Wrap the container containing raw chitlins in plastic wrap when thawing in the refrigerator.

-Keep children out of the kitchen until chitlins are pre-boiled and the kitchen is thoroughly cleaned.

-After touching chitlins, wash your hands with warm water and soap, and clean under your nails.

-Clean sinks and places touched by raw chitlins or their juice with hot soapy water or a chlorine bleach solution.

-Wrap all waste promptly and throw into an outside garbage can.

-Clean all pots, pans, buckets and utensils in the dishwasher or in hot soapy water.

-Wash dishcloths, towels or sponges used in cleanup in hot water.