Food Safety, Preparation and Storage Tips
Cooperative Extension, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, the University of Arizona

Ground Meat and Poultry Food Satety

Ground meat including hamburger, pork patties, and ground lamb and ground poultry products such as chicken patties or ground turkey receive more handling than roasts, chops, and other cuts or parts. More handling, especially grinding and mixing, means a greater likelihood of contamination by bacteria such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, Listeria, and E. coli 0157:H7.

E. coli 0157:H7 is a strain of bacteria that has caused numerous outbreaks of food-borne disease. The majority of E. coli outbreaks since 1982 have been linked to undercooked ground beef. This bacteria can survive both refrigeration and freezer storage. Cook your meat thoroughly to 160-165° F to kill any possible bacteria.

To destroy any bacteria that might be present, you must cook ground meat or poultry thoroughly. The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the USDA recommends the use of a meat thermometer when cooking meat and poultry. Check ground beef patties with a thermometer to be sure they are cooked to an internal temperature of 160° F. Ground poultry should be cooked to 165° F measured by a meat thermometer which has been inserted into the thickest part of the patty. If a beef patty is not thick enough to check from the top, insert the meat thermometer sideways into the patty.

Recent research has raised concerns regarding the color of meat to determine doneness. Some ground beef may appear to have lost all pink color before it actually reaches the recommended 160° F and some ground beef may remain pink at temperatures well above the recommended 160° F.

Although complete cooking is most reliably measured by a meat thermometer, doneness can be judged by several other factors in the absence of a meat thermometer. For example, the color of cooked juices: the juices should have no trace of pink, red, or cloudiness. The color of cooked meat: ground beef should be brown in the middle and the texture of cooked meat should have a firm or flaky texture. Raw meat has a soft mushy texture, regardless of color.

Keep ground meat and poultry in the refrigerator or freezer and use it within one or two days. To prevent ground beef from premature browning, it should be tightly wrapped and frozen, or stored for no more than two days at 40° F. The purply-brown color that sometimes develops in ground beef is due to oxidation, which does not affect the safety of the meat.

For best quality, frozen raw meats should be used within 3 to 4 months. Defrost frozen ground meats in the refrigerator, never at room temperature. If microwave defrosting, cook immediately.

Keep everything clean - hands, utensils, counters, cutting boards and sinks to avoid cross contamination. Don't let raw meat or poultry juices touch ready-to-eat foods either in the refrigerator or during preparation.

And remember, always refrigerate leftovers immediately or throw them away.

Resources:

  • The University of Arizona Fact Sheet “Assessment of Doneness in Cooked Ground Beef”, 1997.
  • Food Safety & Inspection Service, USDA publication 1990. “Preventing Food-borne Illness, A Guide to Safe Food Handling,”
  • Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA, Food Safety Publication, Focus on Ground Beef, 1997 http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OA/pubs/focusgb.htm
  • Iowa State University Extension Publication, Keep Ground Meat Safe, http://www.exnet.iastate.edu/Publications/PM1480.pdf

Material written by Mary Abgrall and Scottie Misner, June 1998.
Part of Food Safety Tips, College of Agriculture, The University of Arizona
Document located at http://ag.arizona.edu/pubs/health/foodsafety/az1090.html
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