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Safety Procedures for Meat Handling
- Meat needs refrigeration within two hours of purchasing, or one hour, if the outdoor temperature is over 90 degrees. The refrigerator storing the meat should be no warmer than 40 degrees. If you are freezing meat, the freezer should be zero degrees or below. Use a thermometer to check storage temperatures regularly. All meat must be wrapped tightly to prevent contaminating other food.
- Before handling any food, wash your hands with warm water and soap for no less than 20 seconds. Be aware of things around the area you are using. Do not prepare any meat in the same location as other foods. This might result in contamination.
After cutting any type of meat or fish, wash cutting boards, utensils and counters with hot soapy water. If you marinate your meat, make sure it is in a covered dish in the refrigerator. Wash your hands after handling raw meat.
- Thawing can be done safely in a refrigerator. Wrap and contain thawing meat to avoid dripping juice on other food. If you need rapid thawing, put meat in a leak-proof bag and submerge in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes. Do not let meat sit out after thawing. Cook it immediately.
Cooking and Internal Temperatures
- It's important when cooking that meat reaches a certain internal temperature. For instance, beef, veal and lamb must reach an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees to kill any bacteria that might be in the raw meat. With pork, the minimum safe temperature is 160 degrees; fish must reach 165 degrees. Inserting a special instrument designed to read temperatures of food as it cooks allows you to judge whether the meat is ready to serve. Most meat thermometers have a single prong or pointed edge that is inserted into the center of cooking meat and reads the temperature. A meat thermometer is a vital tool to have for the proper preparation and handling of meat products.
- A temperature of 140 degrees or more when serving meat is required to prevent bacteria. Serve meat dishes immediately or keep them heated with a warming tray, chafing dish or slow cooker. If using a buffet style to serve, make sure meat is separate from the other foods and kept heated. Two hours at room temperature is the longest meat should sit out.
- Discard meat left unheated after two hours. Place meat in a container and refrigerate for rapid cooling. Use all leftovers within four days. You may refreeze meat thawed in a refrigerator even if it was not cooked. However, if thawed in any other way, you must cook the meat before refreezing it.