Keeping Your Meat Safe

Contributors: Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN
cutting raw meat

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More and more Americans are becoming concerned about ensuring the food they eat is safe. You can take an active role in safeguarding your food by practicing proper food-handling procedures. Below are tips that will help you get your meat safely from the grocery aisle to the kitchen table.


  • Always look for the Safe Handling label on packages
  • The label indicates that the meat has been processed safely and will give you tips for proper food handling and cooking
  • Make sure the meat is tightly wrapped
  • Pick up the meat last and ask to have it bagged separately from other groceries


  • Always handle meats with clean, dry hands
  • Store meat in the coldest part of the refrigerator or in the refrigerator's meat bin
  • Use fresh, raw meats stored in the refrigerator within 3 to 4 days of purchase
  • Throw away ground meats, sausage and organ meats after 2 days
  • Freeze meats in freezer-safe wrap at 0°F
  • Cooked meats should be eaten or frozen within 3 to 4 days


  • Wash hands thoroughly for 20 seconds before, during and after handling raw meat
  • Use two separate cutting boards and knives to avoid cross-contamination
  • Use one for raw meats and the other for fruits and vegetables
  • Color-coded cutting boards can help you remember which is which
  • Defrost meats in the refrigerator or in the microwave by using the defrost setting — never on the counter
  • If you thaw meat in the microwave, cook it immediately
  • Use a food thermometer to cook to proper temperatures
  • Cook ground beef to 160°F and ground poultry to 165°F
  • Beef, veal and lamb should reach 145°F
  • Cook pork to 145°F
  • All poultry should be cooked to 165°F
  • Reheat leftovers to 165°F
  • Always marinate in the refrigerator
  • If you want to re-use marinade that has touched raw meat, always bring it to a boil first
  • Cooked meats should not be left unrefrigerated for more than two hours

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