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How to Properly Cook & Handle Meats

Written by Danielle Travali.

When it comes to handling and preparing raw meat, some people start to worry about the potential threat of food poisoning. However, heeding a few key rules will minimize the chance for food-related illness or cross contamination. Cleanliness, correct temperature, and proper technique are essential to keeping your family safe when serving them beef, chicken, pork, turkey, or any other type of meat. Here are some tips for you:

  • Never defrost any meat on the kitchen counter or at room temperature. You must always keep the meat cold while defrosting it. There are three ways to defrost most types of meat: In the refrigerator, in a plastic bag or leak-proof container filled with cold water (you have to change the water every 30 minutes to make sure the water remains cold), or in the microwave. When you thaw the meat, you must cook it right away. If you're not cooking the meat, make sure you wrap it well with aluminum foil or place it in a sturdy zipper bag. Then place it in a refrigerator of at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit or a freezer of zero degrees Fahrenheit.
  • When buying meat, select it at the very end of your grocery shopping trip to make sure it’s as cold as it can possibly be when you take it home from the supermarket.
  • It’s always a good idea to wrap newly-purchased packages of meat in plastic bags to prevent yourself from contaminating other grocery items with the bacteria from the meat.
  • After you buy meat from the supermarket, try to go home right away. If the weather is hot and humid, be sure to turn on the air conditioner, or purchase a bag of ice to keep near the meat during your trip home. You don’t want anything to spoil.
  • Never partially cook or sear any meat then refrigerate it to cook later. You will not destroy bacteria this way and can become ill if you consume it without cooking it immediately. Note: Those most at risk for foodborne illness from under-cooked meats of any kind and certain cured meats / charcuterie (luncheon meats) are: older adults, young children, pregnant women and those with weak immune systems
  • When you are finished prepping your meal, ALWAYS disinfect any surface that the raw meat or juices of the meat touched. ALWAYS wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after you touch raw meat. It’s a good idea to try and keep one hand clean (if possible) so you can answer the phone or jot something down  if you need to.
  • As a general rule, do NOT cook frozen meats in a slow-cooker.
  • It’s safe to cook frozen raw meat in the conventional oven. However, it will take about 50 percent longer to do so.
  • When you put meats in the freezer, be sure to wrap the entire package with aluminum foil or place the package into a large freezer bag. This will help prevent freezer burn. You could always use a vacuum sealer to help prevent freezer burn as well.
  • Beef mixtures such as meat loaf or meatballs to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Raw beef steaks, pork chops, and roasts need to be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. The USDA Organ meats such as tongue, liver, kidneys and heart should be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit at the thickest part of the meat.
  • Chicken and turkey must be cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit at the thickest part of the meat and throughout the bird. No juices should be at all pink, but should run absolutely clear.
  • It is recommended that you never cook stuffing inside the bird, as bacteria may not be destroyed this way. Always cook the stuffing separately.

If you follow these tips, you are sure to have a safe and enjoyable meal! Happy cooking.

References

USDA FOOD SAFETY AND INSPECTION SERVICE

Danielle Travali, MS
Danielle Travali, MS

Danielle Travali, also known to many as the Web and television personality "Holly Pinafore," is a journalist, entrepreneur, and food & wine enthusiast. She is a certified food coach, stress management coach and fitness trainer who studied mindful eating and food psychology. Danielle also holds a master's degree in Journalism from Quinnipiac Un.. Read more

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