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Meat Safety

Producing safe food is good for consumers -- and good for business. By the time food reaches your kitchen, we have to take many actions to assure safety. It is essential that food preparers take steps to maintain safety all the way to the table. Practicing safe-handling methods in the home can reduce the risk of foodborne illness and keep your family healthy. Below are the basics of food safety in the home kitchen.


  • Refrigerator temperature should be at 40 degrees F or below, to keep foods out of the "danger zone." Keeping foods cold will inhibit bacterial growth.
  • Refrigerate or freeze fresh meat and poultry products as soon after purchasing as possible. If it takes longer than thirty minutes to get the products home, keep them cold in a portable ice chest or cooler.
  • Re-wrap meat and poultry products tightly for freezer storage using freezer paper or plastic freezer bags (products may be kept in original packaging if prepared within one week).
  • When refrigerating meat and poultry products, place the package in the meat compartment or in the coldest part of the refrigerator.
  • When refrigerated, place the meat/ poultry packages on a tray or inside a plastic storage container to ensure that juices do not leak onto other food items.


  • Do not defrost frozen meat and poultry products at room temperature. Keeping the products cold during defrosting is the key to preventing bacteria from growing.
  • Always cook fresh meat and poultry products immediately after microwave defrosting. During microwave defrosting, random areas will sometimes begin to cook, creating temperatures easily high enough for harmful bacteria to thrive.
  • To defrost meat or poultry products in cold water, do not remove original packaging. Be sure the package is airtight or put it into a leak-proof bag before submerging the product completely in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes so that it continues to defrost.
  • Wash all utensils, cutting surfaces and counters with hot, soapy water after contact with meat and poultry. If possible, use a separate cutting board for fresh meat and poultry products.
  • Wash hands thoroughly in hot, soapy water before and after handling meat and other fresh foods.
  • Keep fresh meat and meat juices away from other foods, both in the refrigerator and during preparation.


  • Cook all meat and poultry products to the suggested internal temperature to eliminate any harmful bacteria that may be in the product.
  • Use a thermometer to ensure that meats and poultry are cooked to their proper temperature(s).
  • When grilling meat or poultry products, use separate plates to transport fresh and cooked products.
  • Meat and poultry cooked in slow cooker will remain at a safe temperature as long as the cooker is operating. Direct heat from the crock pot, lengthy cooking and steam created within the tightly-covered container help to destroy bacteria and make the slow cooker a safe process for cooking foods.
  • It is safe to cook frozen meat or poultry in the oven, on the stove, or grill without defrosting it first; the cooking time may be about 50 percent longer. Do not cook frozen meat or poultry products in a slow cooker.


  • Store all leftovers in a shallow covered container and refrigerate. Chilling quickly prevents bacteria from growing.
  • To speed up the chilling process, divide large quantities into smaller portions or spread food out in shallow container.
  • Do not pack food tightly into the refrigerator or freezer as proper air flow helps to maintain the suggested temperatures for each compartment.
  • Follow the "when in doubt, throw it out" principle when evaluating whether a leftover product is safe to eat. Generally, meat and poultry leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator safely for three to four days and frozen for up four months.