With all the Salmonella and E. coli hanging out on all our precious beef, no one can be too careful when handling tonight’s dinner. For your own safety and the safety of your family, be sure to cook all meat to its appropriate temperature and for crying out loud wash your hands. Make sure all bloody cutting boards are washed and sanitized right after use to minimize bacteria buildup.
Note: In my opinion, wooden cutting boards are the best option for cutting anything in the kitchen because they don’t dull knives as fast as glass and acrylic boards. However, they are not dishwasher safe and must be dried immediately after washing. To keep wooden boards nice (and to reduce aging) rub them down with mineral oil every now and then.
Did you know that foodborne illness peaks in the summer? Do you know why? Well there are several reasons…warm weather brings out bacteria, more food is being consumed outside, and more food is being prepared outside without the safety controls that a kitchen provides. Read more here in this informative PDF. That image to the right is of recalled beef that was contaminated with e-coli. You can’t tell, can you? I didn’t think so.
Now, I know what you are thinking. What am I supposed to do if I have a question about the proper way to safely handle or store beef and/or poultry and I happen to be located in the United States?!
Fear not, kitchen soldier, the USDA is here to help. You simply call their Meat and Poultry Hotline and get all the answers you’ve been craving. See the contact info below:
USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline
Call toll-free: 888-MPHotline (888-674-6854)
The hotline is open from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. EST on weekdays year round.
You can also pop on over to the Beef Industry Food Safety Council to find out more about how to handle all that cow you have stored in your freezer. But for now, here is the basic information you need for defrosting it all and what temperature to look for when you’re cooking it.
Dates and Labels
Butchers and retailers are not required by the USDA to include “Sell-By” dates on meat packages. While including these dates are helpful to the retailer, they are reliable only if the food has been kept at proper temperature during storage and handling. For maximum quality the USDA suggests that consumers cook or freeze ground beef within 2 days after purchase.
A safe food handling label should be on all raw or partially precooked (not ready-to-eat) meat and poultry packages. The label tells the consumer how to safely store, prepare, and handle raw meat and poultry products in the home.
Check out this PDF of Meat & Poultry Labeling Terms for more information.
Many people have a lot of questions about ground beef because it is handled much more than steaks or roasts. Because every tiny piece of ground meat touches several surfaces (including hands, gloves, knives, meat grinders, and work surfaces) it is much easier to transfer bacteria if present. Therefore, ground beef must be cooked completely to ensure safe consumption.
To purchase the safest ground beef possible, follow a few simple guidelines. At the store, choose a package that is not torn and feels cold. If possible, enclose it in a plastic bag so leaking juices won’t drip on other foods. Make ground beef one of the last items to go into your shopping cart. Separate raw meat from ready-cooked items in your cart. Have the clerk bag raw meat, poultry, and fish separately from other items. Plan to drive directly home from the grocery store. If possible, you may want to take a cooler with ice for meats and other frozen goods.
Refrigerate or freeze ground beef as soon as possible after purchase. This preserves freshness and slows growth of bacteria. It can be refrigerated or frozen in its original packaging if the meat will be used soon. If refrigerated, keep at 40 °F or below and use within 1 or 2 days.
For longer freezer storage, wrap in heavy duty plastic wrap, aluminum foil, freezer paper, or plastic bags made for freezing. Ground beef is safe indefinitely if kept frozen, but will lose quality over time. It is best if used within 4 months. Mark your packages with the date they were placed in the freezer so you can keep track of storage times.
Raw and undercooked ground beef may contain harmful bacteria. USDA recommends not eating or tasting raw or undercooked ground beef. To be sure all bacteria are destroyed, cook meat loaf, meatballs, casseroles, and hamburgers to 160 °F. Use a food thermometer to check that they have reached a safe internal temperature.
Frozen beef may be defrosted before or during cooking. It should be defrosted in the original wrapping in the refrigerator. Defrosting meat at room temperature is not recommended; please consult a Biology 101 text for more information. The following is a timetable for defrosting frozen beef in a refrigerator:
Large roast: 4-7 hours (per pound)
Small roast: 3-5 hours (per pound)
Steak, one-inch thick: 12-14 hours
Just for you Tasty Planner folk, I have created a nice time and temperature table for some of your major beef cookin’ needs.
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service includes helpful PDFs on their website. These PDFs can be used to determine the proper way to handle and prepare foods in a safe way for at-risk individuals. Please check out the following information if you know or prepare food for someone in an at-risk category.
Food Safety for Older Adults (PDF)
Food Safety for People with Cancer (PDF)
Food Safety for People with Diabetes (PDF)
Food Safety for People with HIV/AIDS (PDF)
Protect Your Baby and Yourself From Listeriosis (PDF)
I hope all of this information provides everyone with the knowledge and tools to create healthy and safe meals for everyone this summer. Be safe and Happy Cooking!