Cooking Process Alone Won't Guarantee Safety

When it comes to preparing meats, many of us believe that the cooking process alone solves any potential problems with the growth of microorganisms. What we may forget is that safe handling of meat begins well before-and extends well beyond-the cooking process.

Safe handling needs to begin the moment meats are delivered. Meats should be stored immediately after delivery in their own storage unit or in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Fresh meats must be held at or below a temperature of 41¡F, while frozen meat must be stored at a temperature that will maintain its frozen state. Raw cuts of meat, especially ground beef, should be wrapped in an airtight manner.

"Where you store meat is a critical component, too,'' says Karen Combs, marketing manager for Daydots International. "Red meat should be put in the bottom of a refrigerator so any juice that leaks won't drip onto fruits or vegetables.''

When preparing meat, temperature-control guidelines should be adhered to strictly. Steaks must reach and hold an internal temperature of at least 145¡ F for 15 seconds. Ground beef, pork, poultry and other meats or fish must be cooked to an internal temperature of 155¡ F for at least 15 seconds.

"During the process of removing meat from the refrigerator, cooking it and then returning the cooked meat to the refrigerator, it is important to make sure the meat doesn't come into contact with other foods,'' Combs says. "This is how cross-contamination occurs. To avoid the problem, cooks should never touch other foods with the utensils that were used to prepare the meat. Any container used for the meat should not be used for other food items without being thoroughly washed. ''

Food handlers should also be aware that aprons worn while preparing meat should be changed before another type of food arrives on the cutting board-which also must be changed out.

Far more than temperature control is needed in the preparation of meats. Activities before and after the cooking process are just as pivotal in the elimination of contamination and cross-contamination.

Contributed by Karen Combs and Jack Flanders, Daydots International, Fort Worth, TX