Failure to handle and store meat correctly can lead to all kinds of unpleasant – and potentially serious – illnesses, including salmonella.

Fortunately it only takes a little bit of care and good hygiene to avoid most of the pitfalls associated with foodborne bacteria.

From your weekly shop to handling leftovers, we’ve put together a simple guide that will help you get your hygiene house in order quickly.

The Basics: Hygiene

There are a few simple rules that will dramatically reduce the risk of spreading bacteria around your kitchen:

  • Regular Cleaning: Ensure all surfaces, cutting boards, kitchen knives and your hands are washed regularly in hot water. This is especially important if you’re using the same utensils for different ingredients.
  • Avoid Cross-Contamination: If you avoid using the same kitchen implements for items like meat and vegetables, you significantly reduce the risk of bacteria from the meat coming into contact with raw items.
  • Color-Coded Cutting Boards: These are an inexpensive way of ensuring you don’t use the same board for incompatible ingredients. Consider picking up a set to make life much easier. Take a look at our cutting board guide for more tips on choosing and caring for these items.
  • Thorough Cooking: Check the cooking instructions on your meat carefully, and consider investing in a cooking thermometer for maximum peace of mind.
  • Refrigerate Quickly: Cooked meat should be refrigerated in suitable containers within two hours.

a wide shot of supermarket aisles

Shopping

It’s easy to find yourself in a blind rush during the weekly shop, grabbing whatever you need from the shelves to get the job done as quickly as possible.

Take a bit of time to inspect what you’re buying, however, and you’ll enjoy better food with a lower risk of bacterial infection.

There are a few simple tips you should consider here:

  • Pick up your chilled and frozen items after you’ve added non-perishable items to your basket. This will reduce the time they spend at room temperature.
  • Inspect the meat packaging carefully before buying. If there are any tears, then the meat will have been exposed to air – and quite likely bacteria as well.
  • Avoid the temptation to cook meat that’s gone passed its stated expiry date. Plan your meals carefully and shift meals around if necessary.
  • Pay close attention to the coloration and smell of the meat you’re buying. If the item you’re inspecting is noticeably discolored or pungent – compared to the other items on the shelf – skip it.

Storage

Maintaining a clean, well-cooled refrigerator is really important for safe meat storage. The temperature should be kept between 1C and 4C.

(For more detail on keeping your refrigerator clean and in good working order, take a look at our refrigerator hygiene guide.)

Before storing meat in the refrigerator, check again that the packaging hasn’t been damaged during the journey back home. You don’t want any of the juices to leak onto other items, after all!

When it comes to canned goods, many meat and fish items can be consumed years after going into storage. It’s important to check the individual expiration dates in each case, however.

To minimize waste, try to organize your cupboards in such a way that items expiring sooner are located nearer the front.

If a canned item has been in storage for a while, do check the can carefully before using the ingredient. If there are any signs of rust or damage, discard it. It’s just not worth the risk.

Thawing

As a general rule we’d always recommend thawing frozen meat in the refrigerator.

The time this takes will depend on the size and type of meat in question, but an overnight thaw will usually suffice.

Alternatively, you can secure the frozen meat in airtight wrapping, then submerge it in a bowl of cold water.

You’ll need to change the water every half an hour or so, and you must check there are no remaining ice crystals before cooking.

If all else fails and your planning hasn’t gone, well, according to plan, there’s always the option of the microwave.

If you go down this route, check the instructions on the packaging carefully, and ensure you’re defrosting for the correct amount of time, relative to the wattage of your microwave.

three bottles of beer with some leftover food

Leftovers

No one wants to waste food, and it’s always good to use up your leftovers wherever possible.

Again though, there are a few important things to keep in mind:

  • Leftovers shouldn’t be left outside of the refrigerator for more than two hours after cooking.
  • They should be placed in containers that are suitable for refrigerator storage.
  • As a rule of thumb, don’t eat any leftovers after they’ve been in the refrigerator for more than three days.
  • Always make sure the leftovers have been heated through thoroughly before consuming. They should be piping hot all the way through.

Cooking

Detailed cooking advice is beyond the scope of this article, but there are some target temperatures to keep in mind for common meats.

(If the packaging states a specific temperature and time, follow those instructions rather than these guidelines!)

Steak

When cooking steak, you want to measure the temperature at the center of the meat.

For this reason, you’ll find the process much easier if you invest in a quality digital meat thermometer.

  • Rare: 120–125°F (48.9–51.7°C)
  • Medium: 140–145°F (60–62.8°C)
  • Well-done: 165°F (73.9°C) (or hotter!)

Chicken

Aim for a temperature of 165°F (73.9°C), and always cook chicken thoroughly and all the way through!

The juices should run clear when you insert a skewer into the meat.

Ground meat

Ground beef, pork and lamb requires a higher cooking temperature than whole cuts. Aim for 160°F (71.1°C).

Bacteria is typically only present on the surface sides of meat, but the grinding process circulates the bugs throughout. Hence the need to dial the heat up.

chicken being cooked on a barbecue grill

Wrapping Up

Hopefully that’s given you a good grounding in how to avoid some of the more common pitfalls when it comes to handling and storing meat.

If you have any questions, sign up and let us know in the comments.

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