Has this ever happened to you? You are staring at a package of chicken (or perhaps a beef roast, or a pork tenderloin) wondering what to do with it. Whether you decide to grill, roast, or sauté it, marinating will make whatever you are cooking tastier. And, if you follow a few simple rules, you can make sure that your food is safe as well.
The verb "marinate" means to steep food in a marinade. A marinade is a savory acidic sauce in which a food is soaked to enrich its flavor or to tenderize it. The acid in marinades causes meat and poultry tissue to break down. This has a tenderizing effect. The breaking down of the tissue also causes meat and poultry to hold more liquid, making it juicier.
Rules for Marinating Safely
- What containers to use: For easy cleanup, use food-safe plastic bags during storage, and discard the bags after marinating. You may also use food grade plastic, stainless steel, or glass containers to marinate food.
- Where to marinate: Always marinate food in the refrigerator, never on the counter. If you marinate in container, cover the container during storage in the refrigerator.
- Reusing marinade: Never reuse marinade used on raw meat or poultry unless you boil it first to destroy any harmful bacteria. If you plan to use some of the marinade as sauce for the cooked food, your best bet is to reserve a portion of the marinade before putting raw meat and poultry in it.
- Storing marinated food: If things get busy and you end up not cooking the chicken, don’t worry! You can store marinated poultry in your refrigerator for two days. Beef, veal, pork, and lamb roasts, chops, and steaks may be marinated up to 5 days.
- Cook it safely: Be sure to use a food thermometer and cook the meat to a safe minimum internal temperature. Check the Minimum Safe Internal Temperatures Chart to be sure.
You can use an oil and vinegar or Italian-style salad dressing, or make up your own marinade. Mix any good cooking oil with an acid, such as vinegar, lemon juice, or wine. Chop up some fresh herbs or add spices from your pantry. For an Asian marinade, mix soy sauce with oil, chopped onions and garlic.
Let’s say that you’re planning to have boneless skinless chicken breasts for tomorrow night’s dinner. Put it in a plastic zip-top bag (or any food safe container), add the marinade and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. Tomorrow you can cook this chicken any way you wish and it will be juicy and full of flavor.
For more information about marinating, check out these resources:
The higher you go, the longer it takes food to reach a safe temperature. Whether you live at a high altitude (as do one third of Americans) or vacation there for hiking, camping, or skiing, it’s important to have a food thermometer to make sure food reaches a safe minimum internal temperature.
What is high altitude and why does it affect cooking?
Where the elevation is above 3,000 feet, special cooking methods are needed for meat and poultry. The thin air -- less oxygen and atmospheric pressure -- affects both the time and the temperature of most everything that’s cooked. Cooking takes longer because water and other liquids evaporate faster and boil at lower temperatures.
So why not just turn up the heat? Turning up the heat will not make food cook faster because liquid cannot exceed its own boiling point. At sea level, water boils at 212 °F, but at an altitude of 7,500 feet, it boils at about 198 °F. Foods that are prepared by boiling or simmering will cook at a lower temperature, and it will take longer to cook them.
How to keep foods moist
Above 2,500 feet, the atmosphere becomes much drier. Moisture quickly evaporates from everything. For this reason uncovered food will dry out quickly while cooking. Cover foods with a lightly dampened cheesecloth, plastic wrap, or aluminum foil.
In general, if you are cooking meat at 325 °F, you should add one-fourth more cooking time. In other words, if you would normally cook a roast for 2 hours at 325 °F, you would need to cook it for a total of 2½ hours at high altitudes.
At high altitudes, moist heating methods yield more juicy and tender meat than oven roasting or broiling. One popular moist heating method is braising: brown food in fat, then cook it, tightly covered, in a small amount of liquid at low heat for a lengthy period of time. In addition, moist heat helps to break down connective tissue, so it can tenderize tougher cuts of meat.
How to keep foods safe
If you’re cooking meat or poultry, use a food thermometer to avoid overcooking (which will result in dry, unappetizing food) and to prevent undercooking (which can result in foodborne illness). A food thermometer is the only way to measure whether food has reached a safe internal temperature.
Insert the food thermometer in the center of the meat away from bone, fat, or gristle. If the food being cooked is irregularly shaped, such as with some roasts and whole poultry, check the temperature in several places.
So, what’s a safe temperature? It depends on the type of food that you’re cooking. Check the Minimum Cooking Temperatures chart to find out.
When fall arrives, many of us look forward to enjoying fresh apple cider and juices. While most people think of juices as healthy foods, since they provide many essential nutrients, certain types of juice could pose a health risk to your family.
Why Juice Is Pasteurized or Treated
Most of the juice sold in the United States is pasteurized (heat-treated) to kill harmful bacteria, such as E. coli and Salmonella. Juice may also be treated by non-heat processes to kill bacteria.
When fruits and vegetables are fresh-squeezed to produce juice, any bacteria that are present on the inside or the outside of the produce can become part of the finished product. Unless the juice is further processed to destroy harmful bacteria, it could be dangerous for those most at risk for foodborne illness.
Who’s at Risk?
Infants and young children, pregnant women, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems, such as AIDS and cancer patients, diabetics, recipients of organ transplants, and others with chronic diseases are at greatest risk for foodborne illness.
While most people’s immune systems can usually fight off foodborne illnesses, people in these “at-risk groups” are susceptible to serious illness from drinking juice that has not been processed to kill bacteria. FDA recommends that these groups should drink unpasteurized juice only if they bring it to a boil first to kill any harmful bacteria.
Check the Label
Some grocery stores, health food stores, cider mills, and farm markets sell packaged juice that was made on site that has not been pasteurized or processed to ensure its safety. These untreated products should be kept refrigerated and are required to carry the following warning label:
WARNING: This product has not been pasteurized and therefore may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.
The FDA does not require this warning label for juice or cider that is fresh-squeezed and sold by the glass at orchards, farm markets, roadside stands, or in some restaurants or juice bars. So, if you stop at a roadside stand or farm market where samples of cider or apple juice are available, be sure to ask whether the juice has been treated.
Two Simple Steps to Prevent Illness
1. Always Read the Label
Look for the warning label to avoid juice that has not been pasteurized or otherwise processed. In particular, look for the warning label on any packaged juice product that may have been made on site, such as at grocery and health food stores, cider mills, or farm markets.
2. When in Doubt, Ask!
Always ask if you are unsure if a juice product is pasteurized or not. Pasteurized juice is normally found in your grocers’ frozen food cases, refrigerated section, or on the shelf in containers such as juice boxes, bottles, or cans. Do not hesitate to ask questions if the label is unclear or if the juice or cider is sold by the glass.
Questions and Answers
Updated September 22, 2010
Q. Are juices made at home with a juicing machine safe? Are there special precautions to take when making juice at home, other than washing fruit and vegetables?
A. While it's important to wash fruits and vegetables before consuming them, any bacteria on the outside or inside of produce could contaminate the juice. Unless you process the juice to destroy the bacteria, it could still be dangerous for people who are at risk for foodborne illness.