Questions received to USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline about grilling meat and poultry increase during spring and summer months. In anticipation of the unofficial beginning of the summer grilling season on Memorial Day weekend, I have put together some of the most frequently asked questions that we receive about grilling.
Do you have guidelines for buying meat and poultry? What's the best way to handle them safely?
- At the store, choose packages that are not torn. Make sure they feel cold. If possible, put them in a plastic bag so leaking juices won't drip on other foods.
- Make fresh meats the last items to go into your shopping cart. Be sure to separate raw meat from ready-cooked items in your cart.
- Have the cashier bag raw meat separately from other items, and plan to drive directly home from the grocery store. You may want to take a cooler with ice for perishables.
How should I store fresh (raw) meats at home?
Refrigerate or freeze fresh meats and poultry as soon as possible after purchase. This preserves freshness and slows the growth of bacteria. They can be refrigerated or frozen in the original packaging if you plan to use them soon.
- If refrigerated, keep at 40 °F or below and use ground meats and poultry within one or two days; and beef, veal, pork and lamb steaks, roasts and chops within five days.
- For longer freezer storage, wrap in heavy duty plastic wrap, aluminum foil, freezer paper, or plastic bags made for freezing. Meat and poultry will be safe indefinitely if kept frozen at 0 °F, but will lose quality over time. Refrigerator and Freezer Storage Chart
- Never leave raw meat, poultry, or any perishable food out at room temperature for more than two hours (one hour at 90 °F and above).
Is It Done Yet? How can I tell when my meats are safely cooked?
Meat and poultry should be cooked to a safe temperature to destroy harmful bacteria that may be present. Color of meat and poultry is not a good indicator of safety. Use a food thermometer to make sure meats have reached a safe minimum internal temperature. Safe Cooking Temperatures
- NEVER partially grill meat or poultry and finish cooking later.
- Keep Hot Food Hot! After cooking meat and poultry on the grill, keep it hot until served — at 140 °F or warmer. Keep cooked meats hot by setting them to the side of the grill rack, not directly over the coals where they could overcook. If you are at home, the cooked meat can be kept hot in an oven set at approximately 200 °F, in a chafing dish or slow cooker, or on a warming tray.
I worry about my father-in-law forgetting to take a clean plate to the grill for cooked meat and poultry. Is it safe to use the same plate for raw and cooked meats?
No, to prevent food borne illness, don't use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Harmful bacteria present in raw meat and their juices can contaminate safely cooked food. You can either use a clean plate for the cooked meat or wash the one that held the raw meat.
Can I refrigerate or freeze leftover cooked meat and poultry?
Yes, if you refrigerated them promptly after cooking (within two hours; one hour if the temperature is above 90 °F), they can be safely refrigerated for about three or four days. If frozen, they should keep good quality for about four months.
For more information on the safe preparation, handling and grilling of meat and poultry, check out these resources in English and Spanish:
If you have any other questions about grilling meat and poultry, feel free to contact us at the Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at AskKaren.gov
Of course raw cookie dough isn’t as sweet as Mom—but it might be a close second! As you bake up a batch of Mother’s Day cookies, or help Mom with her famous family recipe, keep this information in mind to keep yourself and your mom safe.
Cracking the Cookie Dough Case
May 2009, we learned about a number of people who became sick from E. coli O157, a germ that can cause stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, and can even be life-threatening.
CDC and state and local health departments began to investigate. We originally suspected ground beef was making people sick. It is one of the “usual suspects” for E. coli O157, along with leafy greens and sprouts. But as we learned about more and more people who were infected with the same specific strain of E. coli O157, we noticed that they were generally young and female, which isn’t what we normally see in outbreaks linked to ground beef.
Our disease detectives asked the people who were affected by this outbreak many questions and had them talk about everything that they had eaten and done the week before they became sick, looking for things in common among them. The mother of a sick child mentioned that he had eaten raw, prepackaged cookie dough during the days before he became sick. Another person who had been ill told us she ate ice cream with cookie dough and brownie mix-ins at an ice cream shop (and, later, that she had also eaten raw, prepackaged cookie dough at home). Then another person mentioned eating raw cookie dough, and another.
When cookie dough was mentioned on a conference call between investigators from CDC and health departments in affected states, investigators in several states mentioned that an ill person in their state also reported eating raw cookie dough. It was a “Eureka” moment! Further investigation strengthened the link between eating raw prepackaged, cookie dough and becoming ill. As a result of the investigation, the company recalled the product.
Resist Temptation: Don’t Lick that Spoon!
As gooey and delicious as it might look, eating raw cookie dough could make you very sick. When handling raw cookie dough, keep these safety tips in mind:
- Do not eat any raw cookie dough or any other raw dough product that’s supposed to be cooked or baked.
- Follow package directions for cooking at proper temperatures and for specified times.
- Wash hands, work surfaces, and utensils thoroughly after contact with raw dough products.
- Keep raw foods separate from other foods while preparing them to prevent any contamination that might be present from spreading.
- Follow label directions to chill products promptly after purchase and after using them.
For more information, check out these resources:
- E. coli
- Consumer Advisory: FDA Continues to Warn Against Eating Raw Dough for Cookies or Other Raw Dough Products before Cooking
- E. coli Outbreak and Raw Cookie Dough [PODCAST]
- Animal Planet: Killer Outbreaks: E. coli O157 [VIDEO]
- More about the outbreak [BLOG]:
Due to mass media coverage involving outbreaks, many people know that Salmonella and E. coli cause food poisoning. But do you know anything about Yersinia?
If you would like to know about it, along with other bacteria, viruses, parasites and natural toxins that can contaminate food and cause illness, the second edition of the Bad Bug Book (BBB) can be found at www.fda.gov/badbugbook.
The new book provides current information for both the general public and health professionals about the major known agents that cause food borne illness in the U.S. The book includes information about living and non-living organisms such as: bacteria, protozoa, worms, fungi, viruses, prions, and natural toxins.
For the General Public
The new book features a consumer snapshot for each agent with an explanation of symptoms of the illness it causes, as well as the types of foods it is associated with. Also included is information on safe food-handling practices that help prevent each agent from causing food poisoning. Another new feature is a special consumer glossary of terms used in talking about the causes and prevention of foodborne illness.
Each agent’s characteristics, habitats and food sources are included, along with infective doses, and general disease symptoms and complications. How much illness each agent causes in the U.S. and the populations most susceptible to each agent are also covered. There is an overview of the analytical methods used to detect, isolate, and/or identify the various agents.
So what about Yersinia?
According to the book, foods that have been linked to illness from Yersinia are pork (including chitterlings, sometimes called “chitlins”), unpasteurized milk, and oysters. Anyone can get yersiniosis, the illness Yersinia causes, but young children get it most often. The symptoms usually start within 1 day to 2 weeks and include high fever and stomach pain with diarrhea and sometimes vomiting.
Besides young children, people who are elderly, have poor health, a weak immune system, or take medications that weaken the immune system are at highest risk. Some people get arthritis-like symptoms, such as joint pain and rashes (which often go away in a month or several months), or other, more serious complications that may affect the heart.
Most mild cases of yersiniosis go away by themselves, but health professionals can prescribe antibiotics to treat it if necessary.
To help protect against yersiniosis:
- Wash hands before and after handling food for 20 seconds with soap and water
- Wash food-contact surfaces and utensils after each use
- Wash raw fruits and vegetables
- Cook food to a safe temperature—for pork that is 165°F with a 3-minute rest time, and for oysters the shells should open during cooking
- Keep cooked food from contacting raw food
- Keep food refrigerated at 40ºF or lower
- Use only pasteurized milk and products made from pasteurized milk, not raw milk