The return of summer also means the return of pool parties, outdoor dining, and backyard gatherings with friends and family. The warm weather also makes it more likely that you’ll be firing up the grill to prepare everything from sausages to steaks for get-togethers or dinners throughout the week. But according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), you should never cook any meat dish without doing one thing first. Read on to see what’s an essential safety step for your next meal.
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Whether you’re a budding amateur home cook or someone who considers themselves pretty skilled in the kitchen, it’s relatively common knowledge that it’s crucial to wash most raw ingredients such as fruit and vegetables before cooking or consuming them fresh. But while rinsing off your produce may be a good idea, officials warn that the same rules don’t apply to meat or poultry.
“Avoid washing raw meat and poultry because potentially harmful bacteria on the surface of the raw product can accumulate in high concentrations within the sink and cross-contaminate ready-to-eat foods,” the USDA warns, increasing the risk of foodborne illness. In addition, the agency warns that rinsing the products can make it much easier for bacteria that are loosely attached to the meats to fall off and land on other surfaces such as a sink or nearby cutting board.
The USDA points out that even though washing meat “to remove dirt, slime, fat, or blood may have been appropriate decades ago when many slaughtered and prepared their own food, the modern food safety system doesn’t require it.”
But besides steps you ought to avoid when cooking animal products, the agency also warns that the public may be forgetting other vital parts of food preparation when it comes to cooking meat. And by not having one basic kitchen instrument on hand, you could be putting those you’re feeding at risk of serious illness.
“Our research shows that participants were not adequately washing their hands or using a food thermometer,” Sandra Eskin, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, said in a recent statement. “Summer is a time to relax and enjoy delicious meals with friends and family, but foodborne pathogens never rest. Following safe food handling practices during this and all other seasons can reduce the risk of you and your loved ones getting sick.”
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When throwing a juicy steak or freshly marinated chicken breast onto the grill, it can be hard to resist the temptation to dive right into your meal when it appears to be ready. But the USDA warns that using a food thermometer is the only way to be sure the type of meat you’re cooking has reached the internal temperature necessary for safe consumption. Unfortunately, according to data collected by the agency, only about half of all home cooks run this vital check on their food before serving them.
The USDA recommends that you always stick the probe into the thickest part of the meat through the side to ensure you get an accurate reading. All beef, lamb, and veal steaks should hit a minimum of 145 degrees Fahrenheit with a three-minute rest before they’re safe to eat, while ground meats should reach 160 degrees; Fish with fins are ready when they get to an internal temperature of 145 degrees; And all poultry products—ground or whole—should reach 165 degrees before it hits the plate.
And it’s not just the first time you eat meat that can present a potential health risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s essential to treat your leftovers properly to ensure they remain safe to eat later on. Home chefs should refrigerate any prepared food within two hours after it is cooked and left in the temperature danger zone of 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. However, if your unfinished food has been left outside at warmer temperatures of 90 degrees or more, it must make it into the fridge within one hour. Otherwise, it should be thrown out.
Also, your thermometer isn’t only helpful when you’re cooking on the grill. The CDC recommends checking that all foods reheated in a microwave or stovetop reach 165 degrees before eating them. The agency also suggests waiting for a few minutes after the final timer beeps to make sure cold spots in the reheated meal can absorb heat from other hotter areas of the food.
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