Proper food safety practices are crucial to the meal preparation process no matter what type of food you are preparing. There are right and wrong ways to store, thaw, handle, and prepare any variety of food you may be cooking, and beef is no exception.
It is important for beef to remain at cool storage temperatures until it is ready to be prepared. This begins at the grocery store. Be sure to pick up your refrigerated and frozen items just before checking out so that they spend as little time as possible in your basket at room temperature. You may also want to bring a cooler or insulated grocery bag to transport beef if you are planning on taking more than 30 minutes to get home. Once you have arrived home, refrigerate or freeze beef as soon as possible.
You can decide whether you want to refrigerate or freeze your beef based on when you think you will be preparing it. Whole muscle cuts keep longer in the refrigerator than ground beef. If you are not planning to cook your ground beef within a few days of purchase, you probably want to go ahead and freeze it. You can make freezing beef more practical by planning out your meals for the week and pre-packaging your beef into the individual serving sizes you plan to use, which will likely be easier to defrost as well as saving you time in meal preparation. For best results, thaw beef in the refrigerator and not at room temperature.
When preparing beef or any other raw meat product, it is important to avoid cross-contamination to prevent potential foodborne illness. This means you want to keep raw meats from coming into contact with other foods that you are preparing, especially fresh foods that will not be cooked before eating. To do this, wash hands thoroughly before and after handling raw meats. Wash all utensils, cutting boards, and surfaces you are using for meal preparation with hot, soapy water. Do not use the same dishes and utensils for food preparation as you use to serve the finished, fully-cooked product.
Finally, it’s important to determine proper doneness for the cut you are preparing. It is best to use an instant-read meat thermometer when determining the doneness of various cuts of beef. You want to insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the cut (horizontally for steaks) for the most accurate reading. Ground beef dishes such as hamburger patties, meatloaf, or meatballs should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F. Steaks may be cooked to varying levels of doneness based on the preference of the consumer. Cook to 145°F for medium rare, 160°F for medium, and 170°F for well done.
For more tips on preparing beef, visit www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com/beefsafety.aspx.
Photo courtesty of www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com.