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Grilling Food Safety 101

SteakQuestions 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:

Fact sheets:

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

TaggedGrilling | Summer | Barbecue | Memorial Day