Those of us on the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline can always tell when St. Patrick’s Day approaches. Starting in early March, we begin to receive lots of questions about corned beef: How do you prepare it? How can you tell when it’s safely cooked? How long can you store it?
While a traditional dinner of corned beef and cabbage may bring you the “luck of the Irish,” you can’t rely on good luck to ensure that your meal is food safe. Instead, follow these tips to make sure that you and your guests don’t turn green (with food poisoning!).
Package Dating and Storage Times
If you buy uncooked corned beef in a pouch with pickling juices which has a "sell-by" date or no date, you may store it for 5 to 7 days in the refrigerator, unopened. If you buy products with a "use-by" date, you may store it unopened in the refrigerator until that date.
An uncooked corned beef brisket may be frozen for 1 month for best quality if you drain and re-wrap it. We recommended draining the brine because salt encourages rancidity and texture changes. The flavor and texture will diminish with prolonged freezing, but the product is still safe.
Corned beef is made from one of several less tender cuts of beef like the brisket, rump or round. Therefore, it requires long, moist cooking. It can be cooked on top of the stove or in the oven, microwave, or slow cooker. The USDA does not recommend one particular cooking method as best, but we do provide cooking directions in our fact sheet, Corned Beef and Food Safety. Whatever method you use, make sure that the corned beef reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 160 °F or above.
It’s safe to cook corned beef ahead of time. After cooking, cut it into several pieces for faster cooling—or slice it, if you like. Place the beef in, shallow containers and cool it in the refrigerator quickly.
Leftover corned beef should be sliced and refrigerated promptly—within 2 hours of cooking or reheating. Use cooked-ahead or leftover corned beef within 3 to 4 days or freeze 2 to 3 months.
If you have any other questions, feel free to contact us at the Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at AskKaren.gov (English and Spanish).
Being a busy mom I rely heavily on two things: leftovers and the microwave. How else would I heat up a quick lunch at work as I rush to get back to a conference call? How would I re-heat the dinner my husband missed due to our mismatched schedules?
Still, despite feeling crunched for time, I do take care to treat my food in a way that protects my family from foodborne illness. There’s much more to the safe handling of leftovers than most people realize, and following a few simple tips can save you—and your loved ones—from illness.
Put leftovers in shallow containers to cool quickly
The center of that big pot of chili you stick in the fridge isn’t going to cool down within 2 hours, and that warm spot in the middle can allow bacteria to grow. The smaller the portion size, the faster it will cool in the refrigerator. And when you go to heat it up in the microwave, it will heat much more quickly and evenly too. [USDA recommends packing leftovers so that they are less than 2 inches deep.]
Refrigerate within 2 hours
Bacteria grow rapidly at warm temperatures, and after just a few hours can reach levels that can cause illness. Refrigeration slows the growth of bacteria. The recommended temperature for your fridge is 40 °F or below (use an appliance thermometer to see how cold it is).
Foods should be refrigerated within 2 hours of preparation. Even though it may seem energy efficient to let foods cool down on the counter before sticking them in the fridge, there can be a risk if they are left out too long.
It’s important to remember that the clock starts ticking the moment your food is done cooking—so when dining out, consider the time the food is at the restaurant and the time you travel home. For more details, see Safe Handling of Take-Out Foods.
The microwave is just another way to heat food. The microwaves bounce around and literally “excite” the food. However, the microwaves may not hit every part of the food evenly. In foods with multiple ingredients (like a casserole) some ingredients may get more “heated” than others.
It’s really important that all parts of reheated food reach 165 °F before they are eaten. There are a few ways to ensure this happens:
- Stir the food in the middle of heating;
- Let the food sit for a few minutes after it finishes in the microwave to ensure the food cooks evenly. During this “standing time,” the cold parts of the food will absorb some heat from the hotter portions. Many microwave meals recommend this, so pay attention to microwave instructions.
- After the “standing time,” check the food with a food thermometer.
For more info on reheating in a microwave, see the video How to Properly Cook Foods in the Microwave.
In response to my recent blog, Drinking Raw Milk: It’s Not Worth the Risk, we received a number of questions. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions from our readers, along with my answers.
Why focus on raw milk? What about other foods that have made people sick?
We get a lot of questions from people who are trying to decide whether or not to drink raw milk, and we want to provide them with science-based information on the risks of drinking raw milk.
I work with the group at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that investigates outbreaks of foodborne illnesses caused by germs like Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7 (a dangerous form of E. coli). Over the years, we have collected extensive data based on experience investigating these outbreaks. Many different foods have been associated with recent outbreaks, such as unpasteurized juice and cider, eggs, and sprouts.
When determining if one food is riskier than another, it is important to understand how many people consume that food. For example, did you know that an estimated 4 percent of dairy products consumed in the United States are unpasteurized, based on a 2006-2007 FoodNet Population Survey, yet more than half of dairy-associated outbreaks are linked to raw milk products?
I know people who have been drinking raw milk for years, and it’s never made them sick. Why is that?
Several things can affect whether or not a person becomes sick after consuming a contaminated food or drink. These include the number and type of germs contaminating the food or drink, as well as the immune defenses of the person who consumes the food or drink.
The presence of germs in raw milk is unpredictable. The number of disease-causing germs in the raw milk may be too low to make a person sick at first, but the germs may later multiply so that there are enough to make the same person seriously ill. As seen in these videos, for some people, drinking contaminated raw milk just once could make them really sick; for others, illness comes after years of drinking raw milk.
I’ve heard that raw milk has enzymes that kill dangerous bacteria. Is that true?
No, the enzymes in raw milk are not strong enough to kill dangerous bacteria. In the United States, pasteurization is the only method routinely used to eliminate disease-causing organisms in milk.
My farmer has set up humane and sanitary conditions for raising his animals and producing raw milk. His animals are really healthy. Doesn’t this ensure that his milk is safe?
Even animals that appear healthy and clean may carry germs that can contaminate milk. Adhering to good hygienic practices during milking can reduce the risk of contaminating the milk, but it doesn’t eliminate it. If the milk is raw, small numbers of bacteria might multiply and grow in the milk before someone drinks it. No matter what precautions the farmer takes, it’s impossible to guarantee that raw milk is free of harmful germs.
What about raw milk that’s been laboratory tested for bacteria?
Negative tests do not guarantee that raw milk is safe to drink. People have become very sick from drinking raw milk that came from farms that regularly tested their milk for bacteria, and whose owners were sure that their milk was safe.
What are the statistics on outbreaks of illness related to raw milk?
Among dairy product-associated outbreaks reported to CDC between 1973 and 2009 in which the investigators reported whether the product was pasteurized or raw, 82% were due to raw milk or cheese. From 1998 through 2009, 93 outbreaks due to consumption of raw milk or raw milk products were reported to CDC. These resulted in 1,837 illnesses, 195 hospitalizations, and 2 deaths. Most of these illnesses were caused by Escherichia coli O157, Campylobacter, or Salmonella. It is important to note that a substantial proportion of the raw milk-associated disease burden falls on children; among the 93 raw dairy product outbreaks from 1998 to 2009, 79% involved at least one person less than 20 years old.
Reported outbreaks represent the tip of the iceberg. For every outbreak and every illness reported, many others occur, and most illnesses are not part of recognized outbreaks.
Keep in mind that reported outbreaks represent the tip of the iceberg. For every outbreak and every illness reported, many others occur, and most illnesses are not part of recognized outbreaks.
Can outbreaks be caused by pasteurized milk products?
Pasteurized milk and cheese products can cause outbreaks, but these are usually due to contamination that occurs after the pasteurization process. Also, the most common germ that affects pasteurized milk products is norovirus, which is typically spread from one person to another, not from animals to people. This is different from the germs that can most often contaminate raw milk like Salmonella and E. coli O157 H7, which are spread from animals to people. Also illness from norovirus typically lasts for only 2 days, whereas illness from Salmonella and E. coli is usually more serious.
For more statistics and other information, see Raw Milk Questions and Answers.
Updated on: November 18, 2011