Cook meat properly to avoid foodborne illness

Raw and undercooked meat may contain harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness, and cooking meat and poultry to recommended temperatures will kill bacteria and decrease the risk of foodborne illness, said LSU AgCenter nutritionist and food specialist Beth Reames.

“Bacteria are everywhere in our environment,” Reames said. “Any food of animal origin can harbor bacteria that cause foodborne illness, such as Salmonella and E. coli. These bacteria cannot be seen or smelled.”

Using a food thermometer is the only sure way of knowing if your food has reached a temperature high enough to destroy foodborne bacteria.

Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees as measured with a food thermometer before removing the meat from the heat source, she said. And cook all poultry to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

“Ground meats require higher cooking temperatures than whole or cuts of meat or poultry,” Reames cautioned. “When meat is ground, more of it is exposed to harmful bacteria that may be present.”

Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb and veal to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, and ground turkey and chicken should be cooked to 165 degrees.

For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. Meat and poultry may be cooked to higher temperatures as a matter of personal preference.

Reames offers these additional tips to ensure that food is safe to eat:

—Wash hands, utensils and work surfaces often, both before and after preparing foods.

—Don’t allow raw meats, poultry or seafood (or their juices) to contact and contaminate other foods. Keep raw food separate from ready-to-eat or already-cooked foods.

—Use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry and seafood. Thaw food in the refrigerator, under cold tap water or in the microwave, not on the counter.

—Place leftover food in shallow containers and immediately put them in the refrigerator or freezer for rapid cooling.

—Use cooked leftovers within four days.

—Reheat leftovers to 165 degrees.

—Discard any food left out at room temperature for more than two hours (one hour if the temperature was above 90).

“You can become sick anytime from 20 minutes to six weeks after eating food with some types of harmful bacteria,” Reames said. “For some people who are at high risk — young children, pregnant women, people over 65 and people with chronic illnesses — getting sick from foodborne bacteria can cause serious health problems.”

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that each year roughly one in six Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases.

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