Food Safety Tips for Meat

Always focus on food safety when you're feeding family and friends. Besides thoroughly cooking hot dogs and hamburgers, here are some other food-preparation caveats to keep your guests healthy.

  • Bacteria can spread from one surface to another; it's called cross-contamination. Bacteria in raw meat juices can contaminate foods that have been cooked safely or raw foods that won't be cooked, such as salad ingredients. Bacteria can also be present on equipment, hands, even in the air.

  • To avoid cross-contamination, wash your hands with soap and hot water before and after handling raw meat. Don't reuse packaging materials. Use soap and hot water to wash utensils and surfaces that have contacted raw meat. Don't put cooked burgers back on the same platter that held the raw patties.

  • If using frozen hamburger, keep it cold while thawing. The best method is to thaw it slowly in the refrigerator. To defrost more rapidly, put the meat in a watertight plastic bag in cold water. Cook immediately or refrigerate after thawing. Do not refreeze.

  • Do not reuse marinade or basting sauce without reheating it to the boiling point.

  • If eating outdoors when the temperature is 85 degrees or higher, do not leave meat out more than an hour.

  • Meat and poultry shouldn't be brought to room temperature before cooking, though the meat browns better that way. Bacteria grow when food is in the danger zone of between 40 and 140 degrees.

  • Marinating time in the refrigerator should not exceed the recommended storage time for fish, poultry and ground meats (1 to 2 days). Marinades don't destroy bacteria.

  • It isn't necessary to wash raw chicken before cooking it. Any bacteria will be destroyed by cooking. But, for aesthetic reasons, you may want to rinse off pink juices with cool tap water and pat dry with paper towels.

  • Never brown or partially cook chicken to be refrigerated and grilled later; any bacteria present won't have been destroyed. It is safe, however, to partially pre-cook or to microwave chicken immediately before transferring it to the hot grill to finish cooking.

Meat Preparation Tips

Storage

Most cuts of beef can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days. Ground beef should be used within two days.

Freezing

While freezing never improves the flavor of meat, sometimes it's unavoidable. So if you must freeze it:

1. Take the meat out of the original package. Wrap it in freezer paper.

Note: If you don't have any freezer paper on hand, plastic wrap will do. Just make sure the plastic clings tightly to all surfaces of the meat. Then wrap it a second time.

2. Store the meat at 0 degrees F. or colder.

Meat can be kept in your freezer up to 6 months.

Defrosting

Never defrost at room temperature or in warm water. Always defrost in the refrigerator or under running cold water.

Defrosting times vary. Allow:

4 - 7 hours per pound for a large roast 
3 - 5 hours per pound for a small roast 
12 - 14 hours for a one-inch steak

Note: Re-freezing never improves the flavor of meat. You can do it, but you won't like it. There's nothing wrong with leftovers. Just make sure leftover meat has been: 

1. Refrigerated promptly 
2. Stored in a sealed container 
3. Used within two or three days.