Myth: Washing Meat Before You Cook It Is a Helpful Food Safety Step
Washing meat will not make a product safer. In fact, it may even increase your risk of foodborne illness due to cross contamination. When you wash meat, any bacteria that might be on the meat surface can be splashed into or around the sink creating an environment conducive to the cross-contamination of utensils or other foods.
USDA says even careful washing is not a good practice as some of the bacteria are so tightly attached that even numerous washings will not remove them.1
A critical safety step is cooking meat to the appropriate internal temperature. The temperature varies by type of meat. A hamburger needs to be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Chicken or turkey must be cooked 165 degrees Fahrenheit while for any whole muscle cut like a steak or chop it is 145 degrees Fahrenheit with a three minute rest period. Use a meat thermometer to ensure the proper temperature has been reached.
There are several other important food safety steps people can take from the moment they select their meat in the store until they serve it.
In the store:
- Select meat and poultry last so that it’s not becoming warm as you shop.
- Keep meat and poultry separate from other foods both in the cart and when you’re checking out to prevent any juices from coming into contact with other foods.
- Put raw meat and poultry in its own separate plastic bag at checkout.
- Keep products cold in a portable ice chest or cooler if it takes longer than 30 minutes to get home.
- Refrigerate or freeze fresh meat and poultry products as soon after purchasing as possible. Place the package in the meat compartment or in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Take extra care to prevent raw meat from coming into contact with other foods that are ready to eat like fruit, cheese or deli meat.
- Defrost meat in the refrigerator so it stays cold. Another option is thawing it in cold water or the microwave, but you should cook it immediately after
- Wash hands in hot soapy water before and after handling raw meat and poultry. Wash any utensils or cutting boards that came into contact with raw meat or poultry in hot soapy water.
- Make sure to use separate cutting boards and plates for raw meat and other foods.
- Refrigerate leftovers within two hours of cooking and reheat to 165 degrees Fahrenheit when using again