Whether you are looking forward to a juicy grilled chicken breast, a burger or filet mignon, you should always play it safe by following a few simple rules for purchasing, storing and preparing meat. When in doubt, throw it out so you don’t get sick, especially if you are serving it to children, the elderly or anyone whose immune system is weakened and are even more susceptible to bacteria found in meat.
- Be sure to refrigerate fresh meat within 2 hours of buying it as it will spoil if left at room temperature and never thaw frozen meat at room temperature or it will spoil. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight for boneless or 2 days for bone-in or submerge frozen meat sealed in air-tight packaging in cold water for an hour.
- Cook meat soon after you buy it. Whole pieces of beef, lamb or veal will stay fresh in a refrigerator for three to five days, but ground meat lasts two days.
- Whole pieces of meat, like beef, veal, lamb steaks or chops, should be cooked to at least 145 degrees F (medium rare) in order to kill surface bacteria. Cook to 160 degrees F (medium) or 170 degrees F (well done) and chicken to 165 degrees to cook thoroughly and be safest.
- Ground meat should be cooked to a minimum of 160 degrees and chicken to 165 F because when ground, surface bacteria can be spread throughout the meat so it is not safe to serve hamburgers or meat loaf underdone, especially when serving to children, the elderly and anyone whose immune system may be compromised.
- Use a meat thermometer to be certain the meat has reached a safe temperature. Don’t rely on the color as meat can change color before it has reached a safe temperature. Be sure to insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat.
- Keep cooked meat at 140 degrees F when serving and refrigerate leftovers within two hours. Meat left out longer is likely to have harmful bacteria and should not be consumed.
- Throw out refrigerated leftovers after four days.