How to handle raw meat, according to food safety experts

As a health-conscious person, I’m often asked whether or not I eat meat. My answer? Yes, and I love it. It’s delicious and gives me tons of energy, but I almost never cook it at home.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of cooking meat at home. I could opt for the highest-quality free-range chicken and grass-fed beef while still saving money, which would be a huge bonus. Unfortunately, raw meat terrifies me. Between tales of contamination and the many articles I’ve read about salmonella and listeria outbreaks, handling a raw steak practically feels like a death wish.

Deep down, I know I’m being irrational — especially because the meat I order at restaurants started out just as raw as the meat I find at the grocery store. In an effort to get over this little phobia of mine, I decided to reach out to food safety experts to find out exactly how to safely handle raw meat, from taking it out of its packaging to cleanup. If you share a similar fear, here’s everything you need to know.

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Good Eats: Summer recipes
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Good Eats: Summer recipes

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Smoky Beef Ribs with Sriracha BBQ Beer Sauce by Drool-Worthy | Sarah Mason

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Tomato Tulips by Best Bites

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Maple Dijon Salmon Skewers by Food & Wine

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Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies by The Girl in the Little Red Kitchen | Susan Palmer

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Cucumber Basil Watermelon Salad by Best Bites

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Grilled Cucumbers and Eggplant by Food & Wine

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3 Twists on Chicken Wings by Best Bites

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Tomato and Watermelon Poke by Chef Richard Blais

Ingredients: 

  • 2 each large heirloom tomatoes
  • 3 cups diced watermelon
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • ½ tsp Morton® Fine Sea Salt
  • ½ cup pine nuts
  • ½ cup citrus ponzu
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp sliced green onions
  • 1 ½ cups prepared seaweed salad
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp Morton® Coarse Sea Salt

Directions: 

Optional: Compress watermelon by placing in a vacuum sealed bag and removing all air and sealing closed. This compresses the juices in the watermelon and makes it look just like tuna poke.

Set oven to 350°F. Lay pine nuts in a single layer on a baking tray and toast in oven until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool.

Dice tomatoes into medium sized pieces. Remove the skin and seed of the avocado and dice into medium sized pieces. Mix with the juice of 1 lime and Morton® Fine Sea Salt. Fold in watermelon, tomato, ponzu, sesame oil, and green onions.

Divide poke into 4 bowls. Top with seaweed salad, pine nuts, and sesame seeds. Finish with a sprinkle of Morton® Coarse sea salt.

Golden Peach Slushy

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Black-Eyed-Pea Salad by Food & Wine

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Pineapple & Ginger Coconut Cream Popsicles by Beard + Bonnet | Mary van der Kruik

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Bacon Burgers with Cilantro-Yogurt Sauce by Food & Wine

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Apple Cole Slaw with Poppy Seed Dressing by Kitchen Joy | Amanda Joy McGovern

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Chocolate-Peanut Butter Moon Pies by Food & Wine

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Crispy Buttermilk Fried Chicken by Food & Wine

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Hydrating Watermelon Detox Water by Best Bites

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Chipotle Rubbed Grilled Salmon Tacos by Food & Wine

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Deviled Salmon by Food & Wine

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Grilled Sirloin Steak with Cilantro-Sesame Marinade by Curtis Stone 

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Potato Salad with Hummus-Yogurt Dressing by Food & Wine

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Grilled Peaches with Vanilla Cream & Walnuts by Fit, Fun & Delish! | Ana Frias

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Roasted Veggie Potato Salad by An Edible Mosaic | Faith Gorsky

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Grilled Chocolate Sandwiches with Caramel Sauce by Food & Wine

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Picante Glazed Chicken Wings by Campbell's Kitchen

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Creamy Potato Salad with Eggs, Peas and Chives by Weeknight Wonders | Ellie Krieger

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Watermelon Rum Punch by Jelly Toast | Emily Caruso

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Grilled Skirt Steak with Fruit-and-Green-Tomato Salsa by Food & Wine

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Grilled Leeks with Shishito Romesco by Food & Wine

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Lavender Lemonade by Best bites

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Fresh Grilled Corn and Tomato Salad by This Silly Girl's Life | Dana DeVolk

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Lemon Blackberry Cake by Fork and Beans | Cara Reed

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Bacon and Green Onion Pasta Salad by Erren's Kitchen | Erren Hart

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Bacon Goat Cheese Burgers with Honey and Arugula by Cooking and Beer | Justine Sulia

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Maple Mustard Glazed Tofu Skewers from House Foods

Ingredients: 

  • 2 pkg. House Foods Tofu Extra Firm
  • 4 Tbsp. pure Vermont maple syrup
  • 4 Tbsp. stone ground mustard
  • 1 ½ Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • ¾ tsp. garlic powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 wooden skewers, soaked in water for 15 minutes before using

Directions:

Drain and dry the block of tofu with paper towels. Wrap the block of tofu in a thick layer of paper towels and place on a plate. Lay another flat-bottomed plate (or small cutting board) on top of the tofu and place a can or two of beans on the plate/cutting board to weigh down the tofu, which will help press excess moisture from it. Let sit for 30 minutes. 

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the maple syrup, mustard, cider vinegar, olive oil, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.

Cut the tofu into 1-inch thick slices, then cut again into 1-inch cubes. Place the tofu in the maple-mustard sauce and toss to coat the tofu. Cover and chill for 30 minutes to 1 hour, tossing occasionally.

Thread the tofu on wooden skewers that have been soaked beforehand.

Lightly brush the grates of your gas grill with oil. Heat the grill flames over medium heat. Once hot, add the tofu skewers and grill until browned and crispy, 12 to 15 minutes, turning occasionally to brown them on all sides. Brush the skewers liberally with any remaining maple-mustard sauce in the last 5 minutes of grilling.

Southwest Burgers with Pepper Jack Cheese and Avocado Salsa Blogging Over Thyme | Laura Davidson

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Pasta Salad by Made To Be A Momma | Katie Wyllie

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Double Cheeseburgers, Los Angeles-Style by Food & Wine

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Outdoor Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Pesto and Heirloom Tomatoes by Curtis Stone

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Blondie Cake by Kitchen Daily Editors

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Grilled Steak Sliders with Chimichurri Sauce by Hip Foodie Mom | Alice Choi

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Grilled Pizza Dough with Veggies and Almond Ricotta by Beard + Bonnet | Mary van der Kruik

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Grilled Shrimp with Black-Eyed Peas and Chimichurri by Food & Wine

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Mixed Berry Wine Spritzer by Fork and Beans | Cara Reed

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Pasta Salad with Salmon, Peas and Herbs by Weeknight Wonders | Ellie Krieger

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Cape Code Blueberry Pie by Kitchen Daily Editors

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Pasta Salad with Grilled Sausages and Peppers by Food & Wine

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Homemade Honey-Chipotle BBQ Sauce by Feed Me Phoebe | Phoebe Lapine

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Apple-Glazed Barbecued Baby Back Ribs by Food & Wine

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Creamy Mango-Avocado Salsa by Gail Simmons

Ingredients: 

  • 2 large ripe mangos, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 large ripe avocados, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 lime, zested and juiced
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, plus more whole leaves for serving
  • 1 small jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for serving
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 16-ounce container Hood Cottage Cheese with Cracked Pepper
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving
  • Blue corn tortilla chips, for serving

Directions: 

In a large bowl, gently toss together the mango, avocado, lime zest and juice, cilantro, jalapeño, red onion, salt, and several grinds of black pepper. 

Place the Hood Cottage Cheese with Cracked Pepper in a large shallow serving bowl (or divide among 4 to 6 smaller shallow bowls).

Create a well in the middle by pressing and spreading the back of a large spoon into the middle of the cottage cheese while turning the bowl in the opposite direction. Pile the mango salsa into the center of the well.

Drizzle a teaspoon or two of olive oil over the salsa and cottage cheese. Garnish with a few whole cilantro leaves and a pinch more salt on top. Serve alongside tortilla chips.

Whipped Beet Ricotta Dip with Lemon Zest by Meiomi Wines

Ingredients:

  • 1 large red beet (about ½ pound), scrubbed
  • 2 cups of ricotta
  • Salt to taste
  • Lemon zest (for garnish)
  • Poppy seeds (for garnish)

Instructions:

  1. Trim beet top and root, and boil in its skin until cooked through (a fork should slide easily into the center of beet, 20-30 minutes.)
  2. Let sit until cool enough to handle. Peel beet by wrapping with paper towel and wiping off skin, which will slip off easily.
  3. Process beet and ricotta in a food processor until silky smooth. Season with salt to taste.
  4. Transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish with a dollop of ricotta, lemon zest and poppy seeds and pair with a glass of delightfully dry Meiomi Rosé.
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Does low-quality meat put you at greater risk of contamination than high-quality meat?

According to Archie Magoulas, a food safety expert for the USDA, you’re just as likely to get sick from low-quality meat as you are high-quality meat if you don’t take proper safety precautions. “Whether it’s a premium cut or a choice cut of meat, safe handling and preparation are very important,” he told HuffPost. “Safe steps in food handling, cooking and storage are essential to prevent foodborne illness. You can’t see, smell or taste harmful bacteria that may cause illness.”

Here’s what to do to prevent contamination at home.

That’s a scary thought, but if you follow the rules, contamination is pretty unlikely. The first rule to follow? Hand-washing. “Always wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food,” Marc Sanchez, an attorney who focuses on food safety, told HuffPost. Once you’ve done that, just make sure you clear a space where you’re only handling meat, and not a bunch of other ingredients or utensils you’re using for your meal.

“Bacteria in raw meat and poultry juices can be spread to other foods, utensils, and surfaces. We call this cross-contamination,” Magoulas explained. “If you marinate, place meat and poultry in a covered dish in the refrigerator.”

Once it’s time to cook, temperature is key. So if you don’t have a meat thermometer, it might be time to invest in one. “Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit (62.8 degrees Celsius) as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source,” Magloulas said. For safety and quality, you should let the meat rest for at least three minutes before you carve or eat it. You can cook your meat to a higher temperature if you’d like (though it will dry out your meat), but lower temperatures will place you in risky territory.

If you’re cooking ground meats like beef, pork, lamb or veal, Magoulas suggests going for an internal temperature of 160 F (71.1 C) as measured with a food thermometer, while poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 F (73.9 C).

Preparation and cooking is a good chunk of the battle, but what about the aftermath? According to Sanchez, proper cleanup is key. He said that while hot, soapy water works well for a basic cleanup, it’s important to sanitize, too. “Cutting boards, utensils and countertops can be sanitized by using a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water,” he said.

Meat isn’t the only food you should handle with care.

Meat poses a risk for food safety, but according to Magoulas, there are also risks around most of the foods we eat.

“Raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs are not sterile. Neither is fresh produce such as lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts and melons,” said Magoulas.Thousands of types of bacteria are naturally present in our environment, and microorganisms that cause disease are called pathogens. When certain pathogens enter the food supply, they can cause foodborne illness. But it’s important to remember that not all bacteria cause disease in humans. For example, some bacteria are used beneficially in making cheese and yogurt.” 

Watch out for these types of meat, which aren’t inspected as closely.

According to Sanchez, there are certain meats that may be more likely to get you sick.  

“The USDA FSIS [Food Safety and Inspection Service] only inspects beef, pork, chicken, turkey and catfish,” he said. “Other meats, like wild game, other fowl, all seafood (except catfish) and some meat products are just under FDA jurisdiction. USDA FSIS operates on-site, continuously, and stamps all products with the marks of inspection.” 

Still, he adds, freshness is key, and these regulations shouldn’t deter you from eating these meats entirely. Just make sure to look, touch and smell before buying or preparing — following your intuition is always a good idea, especially when it comes to food safety.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.

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Never, ever eat these foods at a BBQ
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Never, ever eat these foods at a BBQ

A monster burger

Hamburgers aren’t the enemy, but ones the size of your head, are. If hosting your own cookout, choose a leaner ground beef mix and carefully measure out patty sizes (try OXO’s burger press, which helps you easily create perfectly portioned disks) to ensure you’re not overdoing it. “I like a 75 percent lean 25 percent fat beef mix, which delivers a lot of flavor and stays moist. If you go any lower, it can sometimes get chalky,” says Jens Dahlmann, corporate executive chef for LongHorn Steakhouse and vice president of culinary development. You can also play around with other leaner proteins, like lamb, bison, or turkey (try Jennie-O’s various ground turkey or pre-formed patty options); just be careful not to over-grill them, since the leaner the cut, the easier it is to overcook and be left with tough meat. “Beef is the king of burgers, but lamb is a better-for-you red meat and has a lot of flavor to it. Pair it with some tomato, red onion, cucumber, and a little bit of feta and it’s very simple but satisfying,” he says.

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Creamy salads

Traditional potato and macaroni salads are often made with gobs of mayonnaise, which may taste delicious but is a definite fat bomb. Plus, they can spoil easily under the hot sun, making them a hot bed for food poisoning. If you’re hosting and salads are your weakness, try making a lighter version using mostly low-fat Greek yogurt mixed with just a little mayo and lots of fresh herbs for added flavor; load up the salad with fresh diced veggies like cucumber, zucchini, tomatoes, corn, spinach, or anything else you like. “Adding in more veggies means you’ll get some with each bite,” says Marisa Moore, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist. You can also try using sweet potatoes instead of white for more fiber, potassium, and vitamin A, or opt for whole wheat or high protein noodles (try Banza, a chickpea pasta, or POW! pasta by Ancient Harvest, noodles made with beans and ancient grains) for some nutrients with your carbs. Don't miss the foods likely to give you food poisoning this summer.

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Solo sausage links

Sausage lovers know that it’s not hard to gobble up more than one delicious link. Unfortunately, that also means you’re likely ingesting way more fat and salt than is healthy. Instead, slice up sausage and grill it on a skewer with a few veggie chunks (onions, peppers, or zucchini grill up beautifully) sandwiched between the meat. “Skewers are a built-in way to add extra veggies while pumping up the fiber,” says Moore. You can also choose better-for-you sausages, like turkey or chicken (try Applegate Farms’ chicken and turkey sausages), which tend to be lower in fat.

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Meat covered in BBQ sauce

Drenching chicken or ribs in barbecue sauce sure tastes like summer, but it can often come with an oversized side of hidden sugar. “Grilling is a great way to avoid extra calories from fat, so why make up the difference by slathering sugary BBQ sauce on all your meats,” says Libby Mills, MS, RD, LDN, FAND, national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Opt for a rub of cumin, chopped chipotle pepper, onion powder, chopped cilantro, and orange zest. Plan on two tablespoons of rub per pound of meat.” If you just can’t part with your beloved sauce, try making your own so you can closely monitor and adjust how much sugar and salt you’re adding. You can also go for the effortless option by looking for a pre-seasoned lean meat that isn’t too high in salt or sugar, like Hormel Always Tenderpork loins. Be sure you're not making these grilling mistakes even seasoned BBQ cooks can make.

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Steak with visible fat

The best tasting steak is usually a cut that’s nicely marbled, but that sought-after marbling also means it’s higher in fat. Pick a leaner cut, like beef tenderloin or sirloin, and bring out the flavor by seasoning with just a little salt, pepper, and lemon juice after you grill instead of before. “Sprinkle a bit of sea salt, cracked black pepper, and freshly squeezed lemon juice over the top as soon as you’re finished,” says Dahlmann. You can also opt for a bare pre-grill seasoning job and sprinkle a light dusting of finishing salt over the top when the meat comes off; though pricier than ordinary or sea salt, it'll enhance the flavor of the meat without extra sodium or other flavoring cals (try Evolution Salt Co., which sells regular Himalayan finishing salt and blends specific to the type of protein you're cooking). Here are the food poisoning myths you can safely ignore.

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Both halves of a burger bun

Most classic hamburger buns are made from refined white flour, which means you don’t get many nutrients with your calories and carbohydrates. Ditch one half and eat your burger open-faced, or wrap it in a sturdy lettuce leaf like romaine or in BFree’s new sweet potato wraps, which are just 100 calories, low carb, and packed with fiber. If you need that timeless bun-burger-bun bite, grill up slider-sized patties on small rolls with lots of veggie toppings.

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Heavily marinated meat

If you see a pan of meat swimming in marinade, steer clear. Many marinades are high in fat, salt, and sugar. For bottled marinades, look for something that’s low in the aforementioned unhealthy ingredients, like The New Primal. If making your own, choose extra virgin olive oil, filled with healthy fats. Instead of soaking the meat overnight, poke a few small holes in it and let it sit for an hour or two; just enough marinade will seep in to flavor it, but not so much that you bust your diet on flavoring alone. “Olive oil, citrus juice, garlic, and fresh herbs are an easy way to marinate meat without overdoing the sugar or salt,” says Dahlmann. If you’re slow-grilling a big cut of meat, like a whole chicken, turkey, or pork, consider injecting it with a simple brine (a little salt, sugar, water, and citrus juice) or a mix of apple juice and apple cider vinegar. “It will penetrate the center of a large protein without a lot of calories,” says Dahlmann. “Orange or lemon will give a nice balance of flavor to a lighter brine where you don’t use as much salt and sugar.” Check out these fool-proof guide to grilling chicken, steak, and everything else.

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Chips and dip

A small handful of potato chips won’t kill you, but once you start munching it’s sometimes hard to stop, especially with creamy dips on hand to smother them in. If you’re a guest, try your best to exhibit self-control; if you see a vegetable platter nearby, fill most of your plate with those and just a small dollop of dip. If hosting, make your favorite dip with low-fat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream or buying it pre-made. Just be mindful of how long they've sat in the sun and consider moving them inside once the meat starts coming off the grill. Swap out traditional potato chips for sweet potato chips for a little nutrient boost, or have snacks that don’t require dip, like Pepperidge Farms Goldfish crackers or Van's Whole Grain Crackers, which come in flavors like ranch, pepper jack, and more. And, be sure to offer some cut veggies for dipping to further tame your salty tooth. (You can also make these baked veggie chips a healthier alternative.)

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Every single dessert item

Though tempting, sampling every cookie, brownie, or pie is a big no-no if you’re watching your waistline. “Opt for grilled fruit like peaches, pineapple, or plums in lieu of rich desserts,” says Mills. If that’s not an option, choose your favorite dessert item and eat just one. If you’re throwing the bash and want to impress without busting your diet, make a DIY ice cream bar with a low calorie ice cream like Halo Top and nutrient-rich banana slices, chopped nuts filled with heart-healthy fats, sprinkles, antioxidant-packed dark chocolate pieces, fresh cherries instead of sugary maraschino, and whipped cream to pile on top. A mixed fruit salad without extra sugar is also a healthy dessert choice.

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