While raw meat doesn’t sound inherently dangerous, when it’s treated improperly it can spread germs and pathogens that can lead to wide-spread disease and fatalities. Raw meat and poultry, as well as cross-contamination from raw meat and poultry, can cause intense food poisoning, including cases of the notorious salmonella. However, it isn’t all bad. When you handle raw meat correctly, it’s simply a means to a delicious end.
Below we will take a look at the proper ways to handle meat and answer the questions:
- How should you touch raw meat?
- Should chefs wash raw meat before cooking?
- How do you clean up after handling raw meat?
How Should You Handle Raw Meat?
Before you even go to cook raw meat, it’s being stored somewhere. Whenever you’re storing raw meat, you have to be cautious to avoid cross-contamination between raw and cooked meats, as well as raw meats and other foods. Raw meat should always be stored in its own container, and the time the meat is stored uncooked should be closely monitored. You don’t want to cook anything on the brink of going bad!
Your cautious approach to avoid cross-contamination doesn’t stop when it’s time to cook the meat either. Whenever you touch raw meat, you need to immediately wash your hands with soap, or wear gloves and dispose of them. Clean utensils and a clean plate should be used to remove the cooked meat from the oven, stove or grill; do not place cooked meat back on the plate the raw meat was on or use the same tongs you used when you took the raw meat to be cooked.
Properly Cooking Meat and Poultry
Before you can serve any whole pieces of cooked meat or poultry, you need to double-check that the food was thoroughly cooked. Raw beef, pork, lamb, and veal should all be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees as measured by a food thermometer. Even after the meat has reached 145 degrees, it needs to rest at least three minutes before it is served to anyone.
For any ground meat, like ground beef, pork, lamb and veal, their cooked internal temperature should reach at least 160 degrees. All poultry needs to be cooked to an even higher temperature of 165 degrees.
Meat temperatures need to be maintained even after they’re appropriately cooked. Don’t leave cooked meat at room temperature; it should be maintained at 140 degrees or warmer. Leftovers of cooked meat can still be consumed as long as they were refrigerated, eaten within four days and are reheated to 165 degrees.
How Should You Clean Up Raw Meat?
Although your meat is cooked, there are still raw meat juices and bacteria left on different surfaces that need to be sanitized. Meat packaging should be immediately thrown away to prevent the spread of contaminants. While the meat is cooking, all surfaces (like countertops or sinks) that were touched by raw meat should be washed down with hot, soapy water and a clean rag.
Cutting boards that were used for cutting raw meat need to be especially sanitized before being used for any other food. If possible, cutting boards should be run through the dishwasher, but if not, a commercial-grade cleaning solution should be used.
Any tongs or utensils that were used to handle the raw meat should be cleaned with hot, soapy water to disinfect them, and finally, you should sanitize your hands with a thorough hand washing. When washing your hands, pay special attention to washing your fingernails and in-between your fingers.
Should You Wash Meat Before Cooking It?
One of the more controversial topics in the food industry is the question of if you should wash meat and poultry before cooking it. While this is a practice in many homes across the country, the USDA says you shouldn’t wash your meat before cooking it. Why? Because washing raw meat and chicken can spread bacteria and pathogens that we’re trying to avoid. When washing raw meat, poultry juices can spread to other foods, utensils, as well as countertops and sinks.
To top it off, washing your meat and poultry doesn’t remove any bacteria or pathogens because the water isn’t going to be hot enough to kill any of the disease-ridden bacteria. So when you’re washing your chicken, you’re just spreading bacteria around and not actually removing it from the chicken. All bacteria and pathogens will be removed when you cook the meat or poultry.
Learn More with Food Handler Training
While we hope this blog post has been helpful in understanding the best practices for handling raw meat, it’s not a substitution for more in-depth food handler training. Start your food handler course today and become certified by your state to work in commercial food settings.