Knowing how to conserve meat safely is a must for all omnivores. Don’t mess around! The surface of meat naturally contains microorganisms which can go haywire and cause illness if not handled appropriately. If you’re buying more meat than you can eat within 3 -4 days, then the correct procedures for storing, freezing, defrosting and cooking need to be second nature. Avoid the risk of bacterial buildup by following these guidelines for how to conserve and cook meat safely.
How to Conserve and Cook Meat Safely
Most food poisoning is caused either by reheating food without boiling it, or leaving food around at room temperature for hours. Bacteria multiply when they are warm: not when they are too hot or too cold.
– Stephanie Alexander, The Cook’s Companion
10 Best Practices for Conserving Meat Safely
- HURRY Limit the Time of Transport from the point of purchase to your fridge or freezer at home, and use a thermal cooler bag during the warm months.
- REFRIGERATE Store in the fridge only that which you’ll consume within the next 3 – 4 days.
- FREEZE Put all fresh meat that you’re not going to consume within 3 – 4 days in the freezer. The highest part of the freezer is the coldest, and the meat will freezer quicker there.
- DIVIDE Separate the meat into useable portions before freezing.
- LABEL Write the date on the packets so you know how long they’ve been in there.
- ROTATE Avoid losing things in the back or on the bottom of the freezer by placing the freshest meat farthest away. Be sure to use the oldest produce first.
- SPACE Don’t overfill the freezer so that it’s easier to keep track of what needs to be consumed. Also, leaving space between the packets will allow the air to circulate within the freezer.
- HEAT Don’t put hot foods into the freezer so as to cool them down quicker. This creates humidity which turns into ice, and lowers the temperature of the freezer.
- CONSUME Frozen Meat should be consumed within 6 months.
- CLEAN Defrost and clean the freezer every once in a while!
How to Defrost Meat Safely
The freezer doesn’t kill microorganisms. Meat should not be defrosted at room temperature or through immersing it in warm water as those are the conditions in which the greeblies will thrive and prosper.
Rather, defrost meat in the fridge where the cold will keep them dormant.
Can Defrosted Meat be Refrozen?
Meat which has already been defrosted should only be refrozen if it has been thoroughly cooked at a temperature which is high enough to kill bacteria. (See the next point). Undercooked meats will still harbour their natural bacterias, as well as those which have accumulated simply through having been exposed to the atmosphere. T-Bone steaks, chops and thick cuts which have been cooked rare or medium rare thus shouldn’t be refrozen, but ground meat which has been cooked and simmered into a sauce should be fine.
Best Temperature for Cooking Meat Safely
Temperatures in excess of 80°C / 176°F will kill 90% of microorganisms.
E.coli is killed at 70°C/155°F.
Keep in mind, however, that bacteria live on the outside surface of the meat, not on the inside. It’s fine to eat a fresh, healthy steak that’s been cooked to rare or medium rare, as long as the external surface has been well seared with a very hot temperature. Normal cooking methods will achieve this easily – meat browns at 110°C/230°F.
Ground meat, however, is a different story. When meat is ground, the external surface area is greatly increased, and the bacteria are spread throughout the entire mass. The interior of a raw hamburger will certainly contain bacteria, and is thus safest if thoroughly cooked through.
Stephanie says this:
“If meat or poultry is held at 0°C it should be perfect for 14 days. If held at 4°C (a commercial coolroom, more or less) it will be fine for 5-6 days. If held at 10°C 8 a domestic refrigerator with normal daily opening and closing), the shelf life of the same product is 3 days. We cannot know for certain how a product has been handled by a retailer. Has it been supplied fresh 2 days previously? Has it been supplied fresh and then been frozen, maybe at the end of it’s useful life? Has it been supplied frozen and thawed at room temperature? Or at coolroom temperature? For all these reasons one should never thaw poultry or meat on the side of the sink.”
– Stephanie Alexander, The Cook’s Companion
All in all, keep your meat cool or frozen, defrost it slowly, and consume it as soon as you can. Roast your beef rare, but cook your burgers well done. Make a big batch of ragù with your defrosted ground meat, and happily freeze it again. Heat the griddle to steaming, and sear your steak all over.
Be safe, chow down, and thrive.
References for this post:
On the Side
Balsamic Beef with Roasted Rosemary Pumpkin and Pomegranate Jewels – a stunning meal. Just gorgeous.
Succulent Sweet and Sour Lamb – the dish is great, but read the post for my safe meat handling adventure!
Basil and Chicken Meatballs – for when you need something super simple and easy on the digestion.
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