Handling Food Safely: Meat & Seafood
Safe steps in food handling, cooking, and storage are essential to prevent foodborne illness. You can't see, smell, or taste harmful bacteria that may cause illness. Follow these guidelines to keep your food safe.
- Always refrigerate perishable food within two hours (one hour when the temperature is above 90°F).
- Check the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer with an appliance thermometer. The refrigerator should be at 40°F or below and the freezer at 0°F or below.
- Cook or freeze fresh poultry, fish, ground meats, and variety meats (tongue, liver, heart, kidneys and chitterlings) within two days; other beef, veal, lamb, or pork, within three to five days. Visit our Cooking & Storage page for more information.
- Perishable food such as meat and poultry should be securely wrapped in wax paper to maintain the quality and then placed in a sealable bag to prevent meat juices from getting onto other food.
- To maintain quality when freezing meat and poultry in its original package, wrap the package again with foil or plastic wrap that is recommended for the freezer.
- Always wash hands before and after handling food.
- Don't cross-contaminate. Keep raw meat, poultry, fish, and their juices away from other food. After cutting raw meats, wash hands, cutting board, knife, and counter tops with hot, soapy water.
- Marinate meat and poultry in a covered dish in the refrigerator.
- Sanitize cutting boards by using a solution of one teaspoon chlorine bleach in one quart of water.
- Refrigerator: The refrigerator allows slow, safe thawing. Make sure thawing meat and poultry juices do not drip onto other food.
- Cold Water: For faster thawing, place food in a leak-proof plastic bag. Submerge in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes. Cook immediately after thawing.
- Microwave: Cook meat and poultry immediately after microwave thawing.
- The color of meat products is influenced by the animal's species, gender, age and lifestyle. Muscle tissue that gets more exercise is full of myoglobin, a protein responsible for the red color.
- You may notice a slightly purple coloration on the interior of ground beef which will bloom to a reddish hue when exposed to oxygen in the air. This change in color (as well as browning on the exterior layer of ground meat) indicates normal oxidation and does not signify spoilage unless the color change is also accompanied by an unpleasant odor or a tacky/slimy feeling to the touch.
When to Throw Away
Food product dates are helpful, but the most reliable judgment of a past-its-prime product is made with your senses — look for changes in odor, color and texture.
- Your meat should not feel slimy or tacky.
- Take a good whiff. Fresh meat should have a clean scent.
- If there's a fading or darkening in color and the smell makes you wrinkle your nose, toss it.