Handling Meat & Poultry Safely

Safe steps in handling, cooking, and storing meat are essential to avoiding food-borne illness. Follow these guidelines to keep pathogens away.

Safe Shopping

  • Never choose packages that are torn or leaking.

  • Do not buy foods past "sell-by" or expiration dates.

  • Place raw meat and poultry in plastic bags so meat juices cannot cross-contaminate other foods.

  • Place refrigerated or frozen items in your cart just prior to checking out.

  • Keep perishable items inside the air-conditioned car - not in the trunk.

  • Drive directly home with your groceries. If you live farther than 30 minutes away, place perishables in a cooler with ice.

Safe Storage of Foods

  • Unload perishable foods from the car first and immediately refrigerate them. Place securely wrapped packages of raw meat, poultry, or fish in the meat drawer or coldest section of your refrigerator.

  • Check the temperature of your refrigerator with an appliance thermometer. It should be at 40°F; the freezer at 0°F.

  • Cook or freeze fresh poultry, fish, ground meats, and organ meats within 2 days; other beef, veal, lamb, or pork within 3 to 5 days.

  • Keep meat and poultry in its package until just before using.

  • If freezing meat and poultry in its original package longer than 2 months, overwrap these packages with airtight heavy-duty foil, plastic wrap, freezer paper or plastic freezer bags.

  • Meat and poultry defrosted in the refrigerator may be refrozen before or after cooking. If thawed by other methods, cook before refreezing.

Thaw Food Safely

  • A refrigerator allows slow, safe thawing. Make sure thawing juices do not drip on other foods.

  • For faster thawing, place food in a leak-proof plastic bag and submerge in cold tap water.

  • If using a microwave to defrost, cook meat or poultry immediately after thawing.

Safe Food Preparation

  • Wash hands before and after handling raw meat and poultry.

  • Sanitize cutting boards often in a solution of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach in 1 quart of water. Wash kitchen towels and cloths often in hot water in washing machine.

  • Don't cross-contaminate. Keep raw meat, poultry, fish, and their juices away from other food. After cutting raw meats, wash hands, cutting board, knife, and counter tops with hot soapy water.

  • Marinate meat and poultry in a covered dish in the refrigerator.

Safe Cooking

Cook all meat and poultry to the proper internal temperatures:

ground meats

to 160°F

ground poultry

to 165°F


to 145°F

veal and lamb steaks

to 145°F


to 145°F


to 145°F

all cuts of fresh pork

to 145°F

cut-up or whole poultry

to 165°F

Serving Food Safely

  • Bacteria that cause food-borne illness grow rapidly at room temperature. Never leave food out for over 2 hours (only 1 hour if room temperature is above 90°F).

  • When serving buffet food, keep hot food over a heat source and keep cold food on ice. Keep platters of food refrigerated until time to serve or heat them.

  • Carry perishable picnic foods in a cooler with a cold pack or ice. Set the cooler in the shade and open the lid as little as possible.

Handling Leftovers Safely

  • Divide foods into shallow containers for rapid cooling. Put food directly in the refrigerator or freezer.

  • Cut turkey off the bone and refrigerate. Slice breast meat; legs and wings may be left whole.

  • Use cooked leftovers within 4 days.