5 Mistakes You’re Making with Chicken and Meat
Avoid these food safety fails, and you’ll also avoid food poisoning
Have you been shunning hamburgers or shying away from chicken due to food poisoning and safety concerns? It's no wonder: A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report found that 2.5 million pounds of meat and poultry were recalled in 2014 for contamination with illness-causing pathogens including E. coli, listeria and salmonella.
Switching to organic meat probably won't help. “Unfortunately pathogens don’t discriminate — they can be found in meat that comes from small and large farms, as well as those who use organic practices and those who don’t,” says Deirdre Schlunegger, CEO of StopFoodBorneIllness.org, a national nonprofit public health organization dedicated to the prevention of illness and death from foodborne illness. “In order to ensure meat safety, consumers need to be knowledgeable about proper food safety practices and use a meat thermometer.”
Before planning your next barbecue chicken feast or steak dinner, Schlunegger recommends avoiding these food safety mistakes.
Mistake 1: Not cooking meat to a safe temperature
Rather than ordering meat at a restaurant medium or well-done, Schlunegger recommends asking for your entree to be cooked to a certain temperature. For example, she encourages consumers to ask their restaurant server if ground beef patties have been cooked to at least 160 degrees F.
If the waiter looks at you funny, consider eating elsewhere.
“The 1993 Western states outbreak of E. coli that was linked to undercooked hamburgers served at a fast food chain underscored the importance of asking for meat to be cooked at a certain temperature,” Schlunegger says. “While many people believe color changes in meat are an indicator that meat is cooked properly, this isn’t true.”
In fact, a Kansas State University study found that many ground beef patties turned brown well before they reached 160 degrees.
“When a patty is cooked at that temperature throughout, it can be safe and juicy, regardless of color,” Schlunegger says.
The FDA says meat and poultry should be cooked to the following temps:
- Ground meat and meat mixtures: 160 degrees for beef, pork, veal and lamb, and 165 degrees for turkey and chicken
- Fresh whole cuts of red meat: 145 degrees for steaks, roasts, veal and lamb, with a three-minute rest time
- Pork and ham: 145 degrees and a three-minute rest time for fresh chops, roasts and fresh ham, and 140 degrees for pre-cooked ham
- Poultry: 165 degrees for whole chickens and turkeys, as well as breasts, thighs and wings
Mistake 2: Putting frozen meat in a slow cooker
In this fast-paced world, it’s tempting to toss frozen meat and veggies in a slow cooker to save time on dinner preparation. But most slow cookers don’t reliably get meat up to the recommended safe temperature evenly or quickly enough. Instead of putting frozen meat in a slow cooker, the USDA recommends always thawing meat or poultry first. Preheat the cooker before adding ingredients.
Mistake 3: Cross-contaminating
Schlunegger says keeping meat separate from other food items is key to preventing food poisoning. “When purchasing meat at the grocery store, make sure it is tightly wrapped and ensure it is bagged separate from other groceries to prevent juices from leaking on other foods.”
After you get home, place meat, poultry and seafood in containers or sealed plastic bags on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator.
“When preparing meat, seafood and poultry, use a separate cutting board, and clean it thoroughly after using,” Schlunegger says.
Mistake 4: Leaving food out for too long
When carrying food to be cooked at a friend’s house, put it in an insulated cooler to keep it at 40 degrees or below. Remove the meat or poultry from the cooler only when it’s about to be thrown on the grill.
After cooking meat or poultry, Schlunegger recommends keeping it hot at 140 degrees or warmer until it is served. Then, if you don't devour every last morsel, get the leftovers into the fridge asap.
“In hot weather — 90 degrees or above — food should never be left out longer than an hour,” she says. “Refrigerate any remaining food in shallow containers and dispose of food left out longer than an hour.”
Mistake 5: Eating cold lunch meat
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends people over 50 avoid eating cold cuts, hot dogs and other deli cuts unless they are reheated to 165 degrees. The CDC says reheating deli meat is especially important for children, pregnant women, people over 65 and anyone with a weakened immune system. The danger of eating unheated cold cuts comes from the bacteria listeria, which can cause a rare but often fatal disease called listeriosis. And watch how long the those ham, turkey or roast beef slices stay in your fridge: The CDC recommends eating meat slices within three to five days after purchase.
Related: 5 Chef-Approved Food Safety Tips