Cooking Prep – Meats
It is not easy to take up cooking as a new skill set. Cooking is something that requires time and patience to learn. What’s more, the nutritional factor for each type of food changes with different factors like temperature, cookware, and exposure to other ingredients. It can be daunting to people who are unfamiliar with it all. Especially, when it comes to the health and safety parts of food prep.
People can get sick by swallowing harmful bacteria when eating something under-cooked. They can even accidentally poison themselves from eating the wrong parts of a vegetable. It also hasn’t helped matters since there have been recalls on things that are supposed to be part of a healthy diet, thanks to both outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, and government shutdowns of important food inspection facilities.
So, to make it easier for people who are resolving to eat healthier during the new year, we at Bek’s Bites are going to be talking about the importance of health and safety behind food prep.
This week, we are talking about the most difficult subject to handle in cooking: Meat prep. Something that everyone can agree is important.
Meat Prep is Difficult
Whether you love to put bacon on your ice cream or avoid anything to do with protein outside of tofu, we all know on some level that meat is within the real of possibility in the human diet. Our teeth can carve up both plant life and cooked meat, and we require nutrients that are mostly found in plants but are also sometimes found in animals. That being said, cooking meat or any kind of animal byproduct without knowing what you are doing can be deadly.
Bacteria resides in all animals and their byproducts because their internal temperature and moisture is an ideal living space for them to breed. This means that bacteria can come from your friends and family, your pets, all other animal life, and everything you or they come in contact with. So, it would stand to reason that the meat that you eat will also be filled with bacteria. Harmful bacteria can reside in your food without you knowing it because it is invisible to the naked eye. Therefore, it is imperative that when cook with any kind of meat, you understand the rules before you handle it in the kitchen.
When Dealing with Any Type of Meat
While I could clumsily try to recall the food safety I was taught in middle school, I can instead list important tips in dealing with meat in general from Ireland’s food safety website: https://www.safefood.eu/Publications/Consumer-information/Cooking-meat-safely.aspx
- Always buy your meat from a reputable butcher or shop.
- If you see no refrigeration in the area where you are buying the meat, then it isn’t fit for consumption.
- If you’re buying pre-packed meat, check the label to see the ‘use by’ date.
- Make sure raw meats are packed in bags separate from ‘ready to eat’ foods such as cooked hams and cheeses.
- If you are worried about fat content try to go for the leanest option whenever you can. As a general rule, the more white you can see on red meat, the more fat it contains. There is also a percentage ratio that sometimes appears if the number. The number on the left is usually the fat content that stays in the meat after frying. Stick with ratios like 70/30 or 60/40 in lieu of 80/20.
- Try not to eat too many processed meat products such as sausages, bacon, burgers and salami, because these are generally high in fat and salt.
- When carrying it all home from the store, be sure that any raw chicken is separate from other raw meats. Chicken carries salmonella when raw, and can cross contaminate other meats.
- Put meats into the fridge as quickly as possible when you get home from shopping.
- Store raw meat/poultry in clean sealed containers on the bottom shelf of the fridge, so it can’t touch or drip onto other food.
- Keep cooked meat separate from raw meat.
- Follow any storage instructions on the label and don’t eat meat after its ‘use by’ date.
Freezing and Defrosting:
- Freeze it before the ‘use by’ date
- Check the label for any specific freezing or thawing instructions
- Defrost meat by thawing it on the bottom shelf of the fridge on a plate away from other foods.
- Keep the meat covered so that it can’t touch or drip onto other foods
- Only defrost meat in the microwave if you’re going to cook and eat it straight away.
- Try to cook the raw meat within 24 hours of defrosting
- As a rule of thumb, allow 24 hours to defrost each 2.5kg/5lbs of meat or chicken
- If you defrost raw meat and then cook it thoroughly, you can freeze it again, but remember never to reheat foods more than once.
The Cooking Temperature of Specific Meats
Not all meats are created equal. Some of them carry and spread bacteria more easily than others. That’s why it is important to understand the property of each meat, its shelf life and which temperature to cook them in.
If you are unsure with just how hot the meat you are cooking is, you can use a clean meat thermometer that can tell you just how warm it is inside.
Thankfully, in spite of the government itself shutting down, their websites did not. So, lets look at what the US Department of Agriculture says about the minimum internal temperatures for food safety requirements.
|Product||Minimum Internal Temperature & Rest Time|
|Beef, Pork, Veal & Lamb
Steaks, chops, roasts
|145 °F (62.8 °C) and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes|
|Ground meats||160 °F (71.1 °C)|
|Ham, fresh or smoked (uncooked)||145 °F (62.8 °C) and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes|
|Fully Cooked Ham
|Reheat cooked hams packaged in USDA-inspected plants to 140 °F (60 °C) and all others to 165 °F (73.9 °C).|
|Product||Minimum Internal Temperature|
|All Poultry (breasts, whole bird, legs, thighs, wings, ground poultry, giblets, and stuffing)||165 °F (73.9 °C)|
|Eggs||160 °F (71.1 °C)|
|Fish & Shellfish||145 °F (62.8 °C)|
|Leftovers||165 °F (73.9 °C)|