In the day-to-day rush of prepping dinner, it can be easy to forget to wash your hands or wipe down a counter top after prepping raw meat. The next time you're about to cook a meal fit for a carnivore, follow these simple steps to reduce your chances of catching or spreading some serious (and often easily-avoidable) illnesses.
The Big Culprits
Escherichia coli (or E. coli)
These buggers are found in many places: the environment, foods, and the intestines of animals (and people too). Most strains of E. coli are harmless, but there are some that can make you super sick. Symptoms include: diarrhea, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and other illnesses.
According to the CDC, salmonella causes up to one million foodborne illnesses a year. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. Most people improve within 4-7, but some people can require hospitalization.
Staph is a bacteria that is found on the skin and in the nose of ~25% of healthy people and animals, according to the CDC, but i can make toxins that can lead to food poisoning. Symptom onset is pretty fast after exposure, sometimes as quick as 30 minutes, and include vomiting, nausea, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. Good new is, staph food poisoning only lasts about 1 day.
This one is a bit more serious. According to the CDC, 260 people die of this infection every year. It can take 1-4 weeks for symptoms are reported, and they can include typical fever and diarrhea, but also headache, stiff neck, confusion, and convulsions. Pregnant women and their unborn children are often at a higher risk for serious complications, and listeria typically presents as flu-like symptoms.
This one comes specifically from eating raw or undercooked pork and results in 640 hospitalizations and 35 deaths a year, according to the CDC. Symptoms include fever, abdominal pain, and diarrhea (which can often be bloody).
This bugger is pretty common and is often associated with regionalized outbreaks. Symptoms include diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, and vomiting.
So. Yeah. Pretty scary stuff.
But don't worry. A little bit of food safety and common sense goes a long way.
Keep Things Clean
- Wash your hands! Before working with meat and especially after--don't touch anything else in your kitchen once you've touched something raw! And remember: wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Fun fact: It takes about 20 seconds to sing "Happy Birthday" in case you needed a timer.
- Wash anything that's touched the raw meat. This includes cutting boards, knives, utensils, counter space. Again, hot soapy water is best, but you can also use kitchen-grade wipes to clean any counter tops. Just don't re-use these wipes or wipe back over the spot with an already-used wipe. One wipe per pass per surface!
- If you use re-usable shopping bags, make sure to wash them FREQUENTLY in the hot cycle on your washing machine. Same thing goes for any cloth towels or wash cloths used to clean up raw meat spills.
Keep Things Seperate
Don't mix your raw meat with anything else.
- One cutting board per raw product. Don't cut anything else on a board that was used to chop raw meat, even other types of raw meat (for example, don't cut raw beef on a board that was used to handle raw chicken and has not yet been washed).
- Don't prepare raw meat on any porous surface, like a wooden or bamboo cutting board.
- When shopping, bag your raw meats separately. Keep them separate (and contained) within the refrigerator as well. I will often wrap each raw meat item in a separate grocery bag and store them on a shelf away from other foods. That way, if the meat container leaks, raw meat juice won't contaminate my other food.
- When cooking, never put cooked food on a plate or cutting board that previously contained raw meat (i.e. don't take your cooked hamburgers off the grill and put them on the same plate you brought them on out to the grill).
- Never re-use a marinade! I usually toss it. If you really want to re-use, make sure you pour it into a sauce pan and bring it to a boil.
- Try to use separate utensils for handling the meat once it's been cooked (i.e. don't use the same tongs to serve that you used to place the raw chicken in the pan)
Cook To The Proper Temperature
- Follow guidelines for recommended internal temperatures for meat and use a meat thermometer to ensure the proper temperature has been reached.
Keep Things Cool
- When buying meat, always make sure it feels cold to the touch. If it feels warm at the store, don't buy it.
- Refrigerate or freeze meat within 2 hours of cooking or purchasing.
- Make sure your fridge is the proper temp: meat should always be kept refrigerated to at least 40 degrees F.
- Never thaw frozen meat at room temperature (i.e. on the counter top). Instead, thaw in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. Cook immediately once thaw.
- Marinate in the fridge--never at room temperature on the counter top.
- Freeze anything you don't plan to cook within three days of purchasing.
Now you've got it! Go out there and avoid food borne illness!
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