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Producing safe food is good for consumers -- and good for business. By the time food reaches your kitchen, members of the meat and poultry industry have taken many actions to assure safety. Government inspectors also oversee meat and poultry processing to verify compliance with federal regulations.

However, it is essential that food preparers take steps to maintain safety all the way to the table. Practicing safe-handling methods in the home can reduce the risk of foodborne illness and keep your family healthy.

Below are the basics of food safety in the home kitchen. For safe-handling instructions specific to a meat product type, click on the product in the box, on the right above.

Always purchase fresh meat and poultry products last.

Meat and poultry products should feel cold to the touch. Do not purchase products that feel warm, as this indicates that the product has not been stored at the proper temperature.
Place products in a plastic bag to prevent juices from leaking onto other raw products in your shopping cart.
Tip: If plastic bags are not available at your grocer's meat counter, pick up a few extra bags in the produce section or consider bringing your own from home.
Choose packages that are tightly wrapped and have no tears or punctures. Be sure the packages do not contain excessive liquid, which can be an indication of temperature abuse or excessive storage. For vacuum-packaged products, be sure that the seal has not been broken and that the package is not leaking.
Purchase meat and poultry products by the sell-by date. If you purchase meat and poultry products on or within a day or two of the sell-by date, prepare or freeze the product right away.
 

Refrigerator temperature should be at 40 degrees F or below, to keep foods out of the "danger zone." Keeping foods cold will inhibit bacterial growth.

Refrigerate or freeze fresh meat and poultry products as soon after purchasing as possible. If it takes longer than thirty minutes to get the products home, keep them cold in a portable ice chest or cooler.
Re-wrap meat and poultry products tightly for freezer storage using freezer paper or plastic freezer bags (products may be kept in original packaging if prepared within one week).
When refrigerating meat and poultry products, place the package in the meat compartment or in the coldest part of the refrigerator.
When refrigerated, place the meat/ poultry packages on a tray or inside a plastic storage container to ensure that juices do not leak onto other food items.
 

Do not defrost frozen meat and poultry products at room temperature. Keeping the products cold during defrosting is the key to preventing bacteria from growing.

Always cook fresh meat and poultry products immediately after microwave defrosting. During microwave defrosting, random areas will sometimes begin to cook, creating temperatures easily high enough for harmful bacteria to thrive.
To defrost meat or poultry products in cold water, do not remove original packaging. Be sure the package is airtight or put it into a leak-proof bag before submerging the product completely in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes so that it continues to defrost. Note: Foods defrosted in the microwave or by the cold-water method should be cooked before re-freezing because they may have been held at temperatures higher than 40 F.
Wash all utensils, cutting surfaces and counters with hot, soapy water after contact with meat and poultry. If possible, use a separate cutting board for fresh meat and poultry products.
Wash hands thoroughly in hot, soapy water before and after handling meat and other fresh foods.
Keep fresh meat and meat juices away from other foods, both in the refrigerator and during preparation.
Never place cooked foods on the same platter, board or tray that held fresh meats or poultry.
 

Cook all meat and poultry products to the suggested internal temperature to eliminate any harmful bacteria that may be in the product (see product section for specific times).

Use a thermometer to ensure that meats and poultry are cooked to their proper temperature(s). For more information, click here.
When grilling meat or poultry products, use separate plates to transport fresh and cooked products.
Meat and poultry cooked in slow cooker will remain at a safe temperature as long as the cooker is operating. Direct heat from the crock pot, lengthy cooking and steam created within the tightly-covered container help to destroy bacteria and make the slow cooker a safe process for cooking foods.
It is safe to cook frozen meat or poultry in the oven, on the stove, or grill without defrosting it first; the cooking time may be about 50 percent longer. Do not cook frozen meat or poultry products in a slow cooker.
 

Store all leftovers in a shallow covered container and refrigerate. Chilling quickly prevents bacteria from growing.

To speed up the chilling process, divide large quantities into smaller portions or spread food out in shallow container.
Do not pack food tightly into the refrigerator or freezer as proper air flow helps to maintain the suggested temperatures for each compartment.
Follow the "when in doubt, throw it out" principle when evaluating whether a leftover product is safe to eat. Generally, meat and poultry leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator safely for three to four days and frozen for up four months.
Note: Pregnant women, children, elderly and immuno-compromised individuals can be at an increased risk of developing foodborne illnesses that can have dire consequences. Additional care should be taken for safe handling.
 
 

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