BY TOBY AMIDOR, MS, RD
Meal-prepping in bulk at the beginning of the week is a staple tactic for countless bodybuilders. It’s convenient in the long run, but it’s a ritual that often includes prepping and cooking pounds of meat which can lead to plenty of opportunities for cross-contamination. If you’re not careful, the raw veggies you’ve chopped up for snacking may come with a side of food poisoning thanks to a dirty cutting board or knife.
If you enjoy preparing and eating protein-filled meat, there are small habits that can either keep your meat safe to eat or provide the opportunity for pathogenic bacteria to get you sick. Here, we cover nine food safety tips to remember while preparing your chicken, steak, pork, or any other meat to keep it safe from prepping to storage.
1. Store Raw Meat Properly
Once you purchase your meat, it’s important to store it properly once you get home. Always refrigerate meat within two hours of food shopping, or one hour if the temperature is 90° or higher.
2. Thaw It in the Fridge
Never leave meat on the counter top to thaw. Room temperature is perfect for bacteria to grow and thrive to amounts that can make you sick, and even proper cooking may not be able to destroy all the billions of bacteria that will grow while your meat is thawing.
Instead, place the frozen meat into the refrigerator to thaw the night before you’re going to cook it. Put the frozen meat on the lower shelves under ready-to-eat foods (like fruits and vegetables) and wrap it or place it in a container to catch any juices that may drip.
3. Don’t Wash Your Meat
The 2015-2020 dietary guidelines recommend not washing your meat before prepping or cooking it, but research has found that washing meat and poultry causes water and bacteria to splash over the sink and countertops, contaminating everything it touches.
So skip the water—as long as you handle your meat properly, cooking it to the recommended internal cooking temperature will destroy any harmful bacteria on it.
. Don’t Use the Same Cutting Board for Meat and Veggies
Raw meat can contain harmful bacteria, which can easily be transferred from one surface to the other and potentially make you sick. Use separate cutting boards for your raw meat and other foods like fruits and vegetables, or make sure you thoroughly wash your cutting board in soap and warm water before using it for a different food.
Also, make sure to properly clean your hands and any work surfaces after handling raw meat—and don’t forget to wash all utensils used.
5. Marinate Meat Properly
If you choose to marinate your meat, then place the marinating meat in a covered container in the refrigerator. Once you remove the meat from the container, discard leftover marinade. Do not use leftover marinade—it’s contaminated with any bacteria that was on the raw meat.
6. Avoid Cross-Contamination on Plates
Don’t use the same plate, tongs, or utensils used while preparing the raw meat to handle cooked meat. This is another type of cross-contamination that many folks forget about.
7. Use a Meat Thermometer
Proper cooking is the only way to ensure that bacteria is destroyed, and the only way to know that meat has reached the proper internal cooking temperature is by checking it with a thermometer.
There are some pretty cool meat thermometers you can buy that have the cooking temperatures built in, or you can use the guidelines below for cooking meats from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS):
- Beef, pork, veal, and lamb (chop, roasts, steaks): 145°F, and allow meat to rest for at least 3 minutes
- Ground meat: 160°F
- Ham (fresh or cooked): 145°F, and allow meat to rest for at least 3 minutes
8. Store Leftovers Within 2 Hours
If you do have leftovers, they should be stored in a resealable container and placed in the refrigerator within 2 hours. If the temperature is 90°F or above, then leftovers should be stored within 1 hour.
Don’t leave leftovers out longer, as it gives the bacteria plenty of time to grow and thrive on your food.