With the temperatures getting warmer out there, it brings up food safety in my mind. I know many people will be rolling that grill out and quite a few don’t pay attention to food when it’s out. Decades of working in the food industry have some things ingrained in my head. I know its easy to get distracted and not actually pay attention as we should.
I hope you know that thawing meat the wrong way can cause harmful bacterial growth. We all know the rules about cooking meat to the correct temperature, but few understand the importance of how you thaw it. Storing meat is another area of concern. The way meat is stored, can actually aid in the thawing process. Following some simple storing and thawing rules will make your meat last longer and taste better when it is time to cook.
Meat has different rules than poultry and fish, but the basic principles are the same. Depending on when you plan to use the meat, your storage techniques should vary and the storage time makes a difference in the best ways to thaw. Here are some storage and thawing rules to follow for safe meat handling.
1. Storage – It is important to keep meat chilled to at least 40 degrees. This will help maintain the safe temperature of the meat so no bacteria can grow. Once you get home from the store, immediately put the meat away. Double check the temperature in your refrigerator to ensure it is between 35 and 40 degrees and that your freezer is at zero degrees or a little below.
If you plan on storing large amounts of meat, break them down into smaller portion sizes before freezing because this will make thawing easier for individual servings. Keep the meat in the original packaging, if possible, and make sure there are no holes or perforations in the packaging. Most typical meats can be stored in the refrigerator for up to four days at the proper temperature. If you are not planning to use the meat before this time, consider freezing and then thawing. If you do not plan on using the meat within two months, over-wrap the meat with a heavy-duty plastic wrap or put it into an acceptable freezer bag.
2. Thawing – The best way for meat to thaw is in the refrigerator. This does mean there is some prior planning on your part before cooking. Meat defrosted in the refrigerator can be refrozen before cooking; thawing any other way, make sure you cook the meat before freezing.
Meat can also be defrosted faster by putting it in a leak-proof plastic bag and submerging it in cold tap water. Do not use warm or hot water because this will cause the meat to start the bacterial growth before the cooking process begins. Thawing in the microwave is another acceptable way because, unlike soaking in warm water, the microwave thawing process happens quickly enough that no bacterial growth will occur.
Poultry follows the same basic guidelines as meat, except for the maximum storage time. Uncooked chicken, turkey or fowl can be stored in the freezer for up to nine months if broken down, and to a year if intact. For thawing, the best way to thaw is in the refrigerator or under cold tap water. It is not recommended to thaw poultry in the microwave due to salmonella growth.
Fish is a difficult item to store and still retain the freshness. If not stored properly, fish will develop that “fishy” smell which will overpower the other foods and seasonings when cooking. To properly store fish, keep it in the original wrapper and give it plenty of room in the refrigerator to allow the air to circulate freely around it. This will allow the fish to age properly without getting smelly. If you are not planning on cooking the fish within two days, wrap it tightly in moisture-proof freezer paper before storing in the freezer.
Live shellfish should be refrigerated in lightly covered containers – not airtight. They still need to breath. Inspect all live shellfish before cooking to make sure they are not damaged or dead. Discard any shellfish if they die during the storage process or if their shells crack or break. No exceptions, throw them away.
I do not recommend freezing shellfish before cooking. If you have tips or experience with that, please feel free to comment below and let me know.
Meat stored and thawed properly will yield the best tasting results and you will avoid the dreaded food poisoning. If you have any questions about the safety of meat after storage, discard the meat and get something fresh. Be sure to check the guidelines for other storage and thawing techniques listed on the USDA website and enjoy the best meat you have ever tasted.
As always, if you put something in the freezer, make sure it’s labeled and dated.
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