Many types of bacteria can grow on animal products, so it’s important to safely handle and store all types of meat. However, the different rules for handling different types of meat can be confusing. It may be perfectly safe to eat some meat a week after it was prepared or to freeze it for later. Other types should be thrown away after only a few days.
Safety issues are associated with everything you may eat. A healthy kitchen depends on your knowledge of safe cooking and storage practices.
Never buy meat that’s past the expiration or sell-by date. Also, buy meats at the store after you’ve found all your other items to decrease the time the meat is out of refrigeration.
Follow these specific guidelines when selecting certain meats:
- Avoid any poultry that looks faded, has a strong odor, or feels tough or slimy.
- Avoid any fish that’s faded or discolored, has squishy or slimy flesh, and has a strong fishy or ammonia-like odor.
- Avoid any meat that’s in damaged, leaking, or torn packages, as it’s likely been exposed to the air and harmful bacteria.
Wash your hands frequently when preparing any type of meat, fish, or poultry. Bacteria can quickly spread between your hands and meat. Always wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling meat, whether it’s raw or cooked.
Because bacteria can spread easily, prepare the meat on a surface that’s separate from all other cooking materials. Keep vegetables and other ingredients away from meat, especially if you aren’t cooking them together in the same dish.
Try to use separate cutting boards, clean all cooking utensils after they touch raw meat, and use different utensils to serve food after you’ve prepared it.
Uncured, raw meat generally lasts safely for around three days in the refrigerator. If you plan to keep uncooked meat longer, freezing it is your best bet. Seal the meat in an airtight package before freezing. Then, it can usually be frozen for at least several months.
Safe freezing and refrigeration time also depends on the storage temperature. Keep your freezer as close to 0°F (-17.8°C) as possible. This helps retain nutrients and keep food fresh. Keep your refrigerator at around 34°F (1.1°C), just above freezing, to effectively prolong the shelf life of foods.
Below are general guidelines for how long basic meats can be kept safely if they’re stored properly.
|Type of meat||Safe storage times (in the refrigerator)||Safe storage times (in the freezer)|
|uncooked poultry||1–2 days||9 months (pieces) to 1 year (whole)|
|uncooked fish||1–2 days||6 months|
|cooked poultry, meat, or fish||3–4 days||2–6 months|
|hot dogs and lunch meat||up to 1 week (open package) or 2 weeks (closed package)||1–2 months|
Seafood and raw fish safety
Fish has a wide spectrum of safe cooking methods, depending on the type and quality of fish you’re cooking. The cooking method you use is also extremely important.
Check the cooking instructions for different types of fish. Fish should generally be cooked all the way through, but medium-rare may be acceptable for certain types. Raw fish, such as sushi, should be eaten with caution. It must be sushi-grade fish that’s prepared carefully to reduce the risk of contamination.
- Most fish must be cooked to at least 145°F (62.8°C) to be safe to eat.
- Raw fish generally needs to be frozen at -4°F (-20°C) for at least a week before being prepared for sushi, sashimi, and other raw fish dishes.
- Some fish, including salmon and tuna, are considered sushi-grade after they’ve been frozen and prepared properly.
- Don’t cross-contaminate a cutting board used for sushi-grade or cooked fish with a cutting board used for non-sushi-grade or uncooked fish. If you mix the two, you can spread harmful bacteria to the safe fish.
- Refrigerate fresh fish at 40°F (4.4°C) or below if you’re planning to eat it soon.
- Always wash your hands between preparing cooked fish and uncooked fish.
When cooking different types of seafood, look for the following to make sure that it’s cooked:
In fish: The flesh should not be see-through (light shouldn’t pass through it at all), and it should be very easy to cut with a fork, with the flesh falling apart.
In scallops: The flesh should be rigid and not at all see-through.
In shrimp and lobster: The meat should be shiny and not at all see-through.
Don’t leave any cooked seafood out for longer than two hours. Keep it refrigerated or insulated with ice if you’re planning to eat it later.