eating meat is practically a national sport in the United States. According to the most recent data (from 2013), the United States ranks third among the most consumed products. With an average daily meat consumption of 315 grams, it is only surpassed by China and Australia.
Considering this, cases of meat contamination are also a serious concern. In 2019 , the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) counted more than 600 000 cases of Americans falling ill from bacterial infections caused by Salmonella and Campylobacter .
Those who cook with meat should be aware of the risks and take all necessary precautions to do so safely. Here are some recommendations to avoid contamination in the food you serve to your family or friends.
Mistakes in the handling of raw meat
Meat is such a constant presence on the American dinner table that many people neglect excellent product preparation practices. Let’s take a look at some common mistakes that can lead to the spread of bacteria.
Cross-contamination of meat
Cross-contamination occurs when you unknowingly handle a contaminated piece of meat and the bacteria spreads to other foods because you disregard basic hygiene precautions.
This can happen when you use the same cutting board or cooking utensils without washing them or when you store meats and other animal products all together in the refrigerator.
Thawing meat in the kitchen
Ideally, meat should be allowed to thaw naturally by moving it from the freezer to the refrigerator for a few hours. But many people forget to take meat out of the freezer before lunch or dinner and try to speed up the process by leaving it on the kitchen counter.
Doing this may be practical, but it is not safe. It can accelerate the growth of bacteria in the meat before freezing or even lead to bacterial contamination on the kitchen counter.
A rare and bloody bet can be delicious. But beware: not all types of meat are suitable for the undercooking process. Dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella and Escherichia coli easily survive in meat that is served nearly raw and can even cause parasitic infections.
Therefore, dishes such as steak tartar must be prepared very carefully and pork cannot be served raw.
Believing that cooking will eliminate any bacteria
There is a popular belief that the condition of the meat doesn’t really matter because all the “bad stuff” will be eliminated during the cooking process. This is almost like playing Russian roulette.
In general, most germs and bacteria can be killed when meat is cooked to a temperature of at least 145 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. But some threats could still be left behind. Spores of certain pathogenic bacteria (such as clostridium perfringens, which causes abdominal pain and diarrhea) can survive boiling at normal temperatures for up to an hour.
Once you have identified the mistakes you often make when preparing meat, start adopting these practices to reduce the chances of contamination:
- Always wash your hands and all surfaces with hot, soapy water throughout the cooking process and after handling raw meat.
- Separate raw meat from other foods in the refrigerator and kitchen counter during preparation.
- Before storing meat in the refrigerator, separate it into sealed plastic bags to prevent juices from coming in contact with other foods.
- Do not reuse any cooking utensils or cutting boards without cleaning the parts that have been in contact with raw meat.
- Do not use dishwashing sponges and rags to clean cooking utensils that are in direct contact with meat; if you do, do not reuse these materials before washing them.
- Do not reuse cooking ingredients such as oil or salt that have been used with raw meat. Dispose of them or adopt recycling of used cooking oil.
- Replace cutting boards that are too old with hard-to-clean cuts that accumulate dirt and bacteria.
- Never place cooked food on the same unwashed plate where raw meat used to be.
It’s not enough to be tasty
Some people can’t live without eating a succulent piece of meat that is served undercooked or medium rare. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
But persistent carnivores are already subject to a number of health problems (like bad cholesterol or heart disease) to risk eating tainted meat.
Fortunately, you don’t have to give up your eating habits. Bacterial infections can be avoided by adopting strict hygiene practices when handling and cooking meat. After all, food taste and food safety should always go hand in hand.