U of I Extension’s tips for meat safety

URBANA—Family meals during this season of holidays and picnics can often extend for hours, increasing the chances for meat to spoil, creating the possibility for food poisoning among the diners, said a University of Illinois Extension nutrition specialist.

“Foodborne illness is a serious problem, and the best way to prevent it is education,” said Karen Chapman-Novakofski, an associate professor in the U of I’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition and an Extension nutrition specialist.

Chapman-Novakofski and her colleague Susan Brewer, a professor in the department, have developed a Web site, Meat Safety for the Consumer, available on U of I Extension’s Web page at http://web.extension.uiuc.edu/meatsafety/ .

“Poor food handling can lead to foodborne illnesses, and consumers need information on the importance of storing, preparing, and transporting meat safely,” Chapman-Novakofski said.

The “Holding Meat” section of the website identifies a window of opportunity for meat to go bad.

“Temperature plays a critical role in holding meat safely,” said Chapman-Novakofski. “The ‘Danger Zone’ is the temperature range that is ideal for bacterial growth—between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F. Bacteria grow readily between the temperature range of 70 degrees F and 120 degrees F. Therefore, meat must pass through this temperature range quickly.”

She recommends the following guidelines:

Cooked food should be cooled to below 70 degrees F within 2 hours, and to below 40 degrees F within four hours.

Keep meat that should be hot above 140°F.

Keep meat that should be cold below 40°F.

If meat is accidentally left on the counter overnight, assume it is NOT safe to eat and dispose of it.

“To reduce time in the ‘danger zone’,” she added, “if you are traveling longer than two hours to your picnic, you need to use a cooler. The first food packed in the cooler should be the last food you will use. The exception to this rule is to pack meat at the bottom of the cooler.

“Remember to have plenty of ice or freezer gel-packs in the cooler since food needs to be cold—less than 40ºF while transporting to picnics.”

If you plan to take leftovers home from the picnic, Chapman-Novakofski said the leftovers should be placed in the cooler on ice promptly.

“Any meat left out of the cooler for more than an hour should be thrown away,” she noted.

Other sections of the Web site address storing and handling, preparation, and shopping guidelines.

From the July 5-11, 2006, issue

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