Warmer weather is all about firing up the grill to cook some burgers and dogs, but getting a nasty bout of food poisoning is the last thing you want. Here are some ways to prevent it when it comes to buying, storing, and cooking meat.
- When grocery shopping, choose meat and poultry that's in the back of the refrigerated case, so you know it's cold. Those packages tend to be fresher too, but double-check the expiration date just to be sure. Wrap it in a plastic bag so the juices can't drip out and contaminate other foods. Pick out these foods and other perishable items like dairy products last when shopping.
- Place meat in the fridge if you plan on using it within two to three days. If you're going to be using it later in the week, store it in the freezer.
- Don't defrost meat at room temperature. Cover frozen meat in plastic wrap, and place it in a bowl in the fridge so the juices can't drip on anything else once it begins to thaw. You can also defrost meat in the microwave. Use the meat promptly, and don't refreeze thawed meat.
- Keep things clean. Wash your hands, your knives and other utensils, and your dishes thoroughly to get rid of any bacteria before and after preparing food.
- Don't wash raw poultry, beef, pork, lamb, or veal before cooking. Rinsing meat under water doesn't help to decrease your chance of getting food poisoning. Heat is the only thing that can kill bacteria. Washing it only spreads the bacteria around since the water can easily splash to your counter tops, cutting boards, and utensils, which can actually increase your chances of food poisoning.
- It's best to have separate cutting boards, one designated for preparing raw meat and one for everything else like veggies, fruit, cheese, and bread. Wooden boards aren't recommended as they can be harder to clean.
- When cooking or grilling meat, have a separate plate for raw meat, and then use a different plate once it's cooked.
- Eating undercooked meat puts you at risk for ingesting bacteria, so be sure to cook meat to safe temperatures. You can tell by using a food thermometer. Most bacteria are killed once food has been cooked to temps between 140°F and 180°F.
- If you're not sure whether a food has been stored, prepared, or cooked properly, don't take a chance. If it's been left out for two or more hours at room temperature or an hour or more in hotter weather, get rid of it. If you're not sure how long it's been out, trash it (even if it looks and smells fine).