Ever had that moment when you can't remember whether you touched the raw chicken and didn't wash your hands? Sometimes we get into such a routine when making dinner that we forget some of the basics about the process — especially when it comes to meat handling and safety. Well, consider this your refresher course. We chatted with Stanley Rutledge, community coordinator at StopFoodborneIllness.org, to figure out some key tips for handling meat in the kitchen. Read on for the answers!
1. Double-bag it at the store.
Smart grocery stores have plastic bag dispensers handy in the meat department so you can wrap up those meat trays. This prevents the tray itself from leaking on other groceries and to keep from transferring any germs already on the outside of the package to your hands. If your store doesn't have bags handy in this department, snag some from the produce department.
Put your hand inside the bag, grab the tray, and then pull the bag over the meat so you don't actually touch the package. "Then, ask the bagger to put them in separate bags from produce and other items to bring them home," counsels Rutledge. "And keep them bagged when you stash them in the fridge."
2. Keep it cold. (Really cold.)
Make the grocery store your last errand, so you'll get raw meat home right away; it shouldn't be out of the refrigerator for more than two hours. (That drops to one hour if it's hotter than 90°F out.) "Freeze ground meat and ground poultry that won't be used in one to two days and freeze other whole meats and poultry products within four to five days," says Rutledge.
3. Prep carefully.
You already know not to use the same knife and cutting board for raw meat as veggies or other foods, at least without a thorough cleaning in between, but a few other common food-prep habits can also spell danger. "Never defrost at room temperature, on the counter, or in the sink," says Rutledge. "Defrost in the fridge, on a tray, so that juices don't drip on other foods or surfaces."
4. Toss waste wisely.
"What I personally do is try as much as possible to not touch the juices or spill them," Rutledge says. "I put the trimmings and packaging into a plastic bag, tie it up, and remove it to the outside garbage container as soon as possible."
And don't let Fido gnaw on any bones you extracted or lick the cutting board. "Just as there is a risk for humans, there is a risk to pets for foodborne illness," says Rutledge. "