Meat and Seafood Tips for Food Safety

assortment of chicken, beef, and fish

Every year, millions of Americans find themselves suffering—and in some extreme cases—passing away from foodborne illnesses. Bacteria can grow in enormous numbers on meat and seafood, so even the smallest amount of uncooked or spoiled meat can spread bacteria quickly. It’s why we take food storage and handling extremely seriously at Wholeys, but what can you do at home?

How do you safely store and handle meat or seafood to ensure you don’t have to worry about getting ill?

The Basics

Wash Hands Regularly

Washing your hands is possibly one of the most essential steps before and between handling food. Wash them for at least twenty seconds using soap and hot water, ensuring that you cover all parts of your fingers and hands. This prevents the spread of germs from people to food or bacteria from one food to another. You should always wash your hands:

  • Before, during, and after you’ve prepared meat and seafood
  • Before you eat
  • Before, during, and after caring for someone ill
  • After using the bathroom, or after changing diapers, or helping a child with toileting
  • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
  • After touching your face
  • After touching an animal, animal food, or animal waste
  • After touching the garbage

Perishable Food Should Never Be Left Out

Whether leftover pizza slices, cut fruit, cooked vegetables, meat, fish, or dairy—perishable foods should never be left out of the refrigerator for more than two hours. Should any foodborne bacteria be on these items, they can grow the fastest in temperatures of 40 and 140 °F, doubling in number every twenty minutes.

Food left out for more than two hours or an hour at 90 °F should be discarded.

Wash Surfaces, Often

Food contact surfaces are surfaces that will directly contact produce, seafood, or meat. Food surfaces in a typical kitchen include:

  • Cutting boards
  • Dishes
  • Utensils
  • Countertops

How to Prepare and Clean Kitchen Surfaces

Wipe any surface clean of visible debris. You can use a food-grade, non-abrasive cleaning solution with a microfiber cloth. Some may recommend bleach; however, bleach can be harmful if not used correctly. You may also use a non-bleach, sanitizing, pre-moistened cleaning wipe, as it’s faster.

Take a separate, clean cloth and dampen it with water. Then rinse any areas you cleaned with to ensure you remove any chemical residue. Use hot water if you need to loosen any remaining dirt and debris.

Now, sanitize the surface. Sanitizing involves killing bacteria with either chemicals or heat. In most cases, since our home kitchens aren’t professional, you’ll probably want to use a cleaning agent. Ensure it is safe to use near food and use hot water that is at least 140 ° F, to kill bacteria effectively. There are also many food-safe, no-rinse sanitizing products for a more accessible, quicker means of sanitizing.

After sanitizing a food-safe area, it is essential to let it air dry completely before using it again.

Meat and Seafood Selection

Never purchase meat or seafood past its expiration, best-by, or sell-by date. Also, if the meat and seafood has never been frozen but left in the fridge, do not cook with it if it is expired, past the best-by date, or sell-by date.

A handy saying about food products and safety is: “If in doubt, don’t.”

When shopping for beef or pork, avoid:

  • Beef or pork that is dark brown or discolored has a strong odor or feels tough or slimy.
  • Beef or pork packaging that has gone puffy. Puffy packaging is a bad sign for pork, beef, or any packaged meat. Bloated packaging is a sign of bacteria multiplying inside.
  • Pork should be a healthy, dark pink hue, with bone-white fat marbling. Any other color spotting, or off-color spotting, indicates it’s gone bad.
  • Excess moisture condensing in a package can also mean your pork or beef has gone bad.
  • When touched, beef that has gone bad will feel wet, slimy, excessively dry, sticky, or even crusty. If you push a finger into a piece of beef and the dent or divot remains instead of springing back, that is generally a warning sign the meat has gone bad.

When shopping for seafood, avoid:

  • Purchasing any fish not displayed on a thick bed of fresh ice in a case, under a cover, or not refrigerated. Remember that color alone is not always a good indication of freshness.
  • Do not purchase any fish that smells overwhelmingly fishy, sour, or ammonia-like.
  • Do not purchase a fish that does not have clear, bright, shiny eyes.
  • Do not purchase cracked or broken shellfish; discard any if you find them when bringing it home.

Storing Meat and Seafood
Uncured, raw meat will generally remain safe if refrigerated for roughly three days. If you do not plan to cook and eat fresh meat within three days, freezing is your best bet to keep your meat fresh and safe. Try sealing it in air-tight containers or packaging before freezing, where once frozen, the meat will be safe to eat for several months.

  • Uncooked poultry can be stored for 1-2 days in the fridge, or nine months in pieces, or an entire year if whole.
  • Uncooked ground meat remains safe in the fridge for 1 to 2 days or 3-4 months in the freezer.
  • Uncooked steaks or pork chops can be stored for 3-4 days in the fridge or 4-12 months in the freezer.
  • Uncooked fish can be stored for 1 to 2 days in the fridge or six months in the freezer.
  • Cooked poultry, meat, or fish can be kept in the fridge for 4 to 4 days or frozen for 2 to 6 months.
  • Hot dogs, lunch meat, and certain kinds of sausages can last up to 1 week after opening in the fridge or two weeks if unopened. If frozen, they remain safe to eat for 1 to 2 months.

Another way to keep your food handled and stored safely is to regularly replace kitchen towels and sponges, which can eventually collect bacteria that can multiply. If you don’t change them often, you could spread that bacteria back onto kitchen surfaces and cutting boards even after sanitizing them. You should use a new sponge every week and clean it every other day.

Remember, don’t eat or sample anything that you are unsure of. Even a tiny amount of bacteria or spoiled meat could contain salmonella and E.coli, making you very sick. Remember: If in doubt, don’t.