Many people get sick from eating food contaminated by bacteria or other harmful organisms. The Center for Disease Control says that every year, approximately 76 million people in the United States get sick from eating contaminated food, and approximately 5,000 of those people will actually die from food-borne illness. These statistics include illnesses due to eating any kind of contaminated food, but I imagine a lot of them are due to eating contaminated meat.
Bacteria grow in raw meat. Cooking will kill them. So the key things are to cook meat thoroughly, and to wash everything that comes in contact with raw meat, including your hands, knives, cutting boards, other utensils, and other surfaces.
Many experts recommend using a meat thermometer to insure that the meat has been cooked to the proper temperature. That’s good advice, but as a practical matter, many people won’t bother. Personally, I don’t even own a meat thermometer. So the next best thing is to judge when the meat is done by looking at it.
With ground beef, make sure there are no pink parts left. With chicken, stick a fork into the middle of the thickest piece, and make sure that the juices that run out are clear, not pink. When you reheat leftover meat, or dishes that contain meat, cook them until they are piping hot.
Bacteria from undercooked meat can cause the following symptoms:
- * Abdominal reactions, such as cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea
- * Fever, chills, and/or headache
And, as mentioned above, the bacteria can even kill you. So it’s worth taking the time and effort to handle and cook meat properly.
Update: Yesterday, on May 21, 2008, the United States Department of Agriculture issued an alert, saying that 808 pounds of ground beef produced by Tyson Fresh Foods Inc. may be contaminated with E. coli. This is just the latest in a long series of alerts and recalls due to E. coli contamination in beef and other foods, a type of contamination that has become more frequent in recent years. So now, even more than before, it’s important to pay attention to keeping safety in mind when you are preparing, cooking, and storing meat.
For more information about alerts and recalls, as well as more tips on how to safely handle food, see the website of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/