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Local Food Journey

Keep it Clean, Keep it Cold

Posted by Chris Raines on 08/23 at 11:55 AM

Cheeseburger. Photo Credit Emily Wiley.

The first rule of food safety is “keep it clean.” In a close second to that basic food safety tenet is “keep it cold.”

The principles of safe food handling haven’t changed much from the basics my great-grandmother taught my mother. Those tips that were passed down from a 1900 southern Missouri homestead came from a simpler time, before the modern efficiencies of modern agriculture (and their unfortunate associated skepticism) were known.

Today we find advertisements of supposed (yet untrue) safety benefits associated with meat production and handling, which leads me to share the following points:

(1) Whether it’s grass-fed, corn-fed, raised in a pasture, or raised in a feedlot, the same safe food handling practices should always be observed. There is no animal raising model that results in a food safety guarantee. Granny’s cows were raised befitting to some of the new production claims, yet she knew “bad things” could still be lurking—she just didn’t know what to call them. Pathogenic E. coli can be found in beef raised every which-way, and Salmonellae can be found in poultry and eggs with any given background. Pathogens know no “food-mile” bounds. 

(2) Minimize opportunities for cross-contamination in your home. Handle raw foods and cooked foods separately. For example, always wash the platter before placing cooked burgers back onto it. That is a prime opportunity for cross-contamination.

(3) You may prefer a medium-rare burger, but it should still reach a temperature of at least 160°F—regardless of how or where it was raised. Also, always use a meat thermometer. Why? Because you cannot rely on color alone to assess the doneness of a burger. In fact, up to 25% of all burgers may look “done” before they reach a safe temperature. Also, burgers can stay pink well above 160°F. So use a thermometer to ensure the burger is done while averting patty incineration.

(4) Grinding beef in your own kitchen may not necessarily result in a “safer” burger. There are many reasons for this, including (a) whole-muscle cuts, like the roasts you’re grinding, have been implicated in recalls before, and (b) chances are your kitchen is not cleaner than the facility in which it was burger is commercially ground.

Do you have food safety tips to share?

{name} Author: Chris Raines
Bio: Chris Raines is the state meats extension specialist for Pennsylvania and assistant professor at Penn State.

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