Tips for handling meat safely (Photo: Pixabay)
Tips for handling meat safely (Photo: Pixabay)

The “Dietary Guidelines for the Argentine population” include beef within the food groups that provide essential nutrients for the proper functioning of the body and therefore incorporate it within the framework of what is considered a healthy diet.

Specifically, red meat is a source of iron, proteins of high biological value, zinc and vitamin B12, among other nutrients. But as important as knowing the nutritional characteristics of the foods that we include in the daily diet is knowing what are the hygiene, handling and conservation guidelines that guarantee their safety.

“Education will always be a great tool for prevention and change,” emphasized in that sense the graduate in Nutrition Marianela Calcagno, who detailed what are the mistakes to avoid when buying, handling and preparing bovine meats.

¿When are changes in meat color dangerous?

Consider that color changes indicate deterioration: The color of the meat is given by myoglobin, a protein present in the tissue that gives the color red, and it can change while it is stored in the butcher shop, in the supermarket or at home. When properly stored in the refrigerator or freezer, changes in color are normal and do not necessarily indicate that the product is spoiled. The optimal surface color of fresh meat (cherry-reddish) is highly unstable and short-lived. When meat is fresh and protected from contact with air (being vacuum packed), it has the red-purple color of myoglobin. When exposed to air, myoglobin forms the pigment oxymyoglobin, which gives meat a cherry-red color. The use of plastic containers that allow oxygen to pass through helps the cuts of meat retain their bright red color. Nevertheless, When the meat is exposed to light, as well as the continuous contact of myoglobin and oxymyoglobin with oxygen, they produce the formation of metmyoglobin, a pigment that turns the meat in a reddish-brown color. This change in color does not mean that the product is damaged either. Darkening of color when storing meat in the refrigerator is also normal, as it is due to oxidation, the chemical change in myoglobin due to oxygen content.

How to keep meat always fresh

Fresh raw beef can be kept for 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator within the optimal temperature range (0-5 ° C) and up to 6 months in the freezer. That is why it is convenient to read the labeling where the packaging date appears. It is recommended that at the time of freezing the meats are labeled / labeled with the storage date to consume first those that were stored before.

What happens when the cold chain is interrupted

It is important that When transporting the meats, do not lose their cold chain, so it is recommended that it be the last thing to buy in the case of making the purchase in the supermarket and if the time until you get home is more than 40 minutes or 1 hour, It is advisable to carry a preservative for safe transport. Storage in the refrigerator should be in a rimmed container to prevent dripping and prevent cross contamination with other foods. To freeze meats it is advisable to separate them into portions, which then allows defrosting only what will be consumed, since once they are defrosted it is not recommended to freeze them again.

Thaw at room temperature?

The meat, whether raw or cooked, it should thaw slowly. To do this, the meat must be transferred from the freezer to the refrigerator 24 hours before consumption or you can also use the microwave. Thawing at room temperature is not recommended.

Careless handling

For proper meat handling it is important to take into account personal hygiene, the surface and the utensils to be used. Before handling food, if possible have your hair tied up or covered with a scarf or cap and, necessarily, your hands properly washed. Before starting, properly clean and disinfect the work surface (table or counter) avoiding leaving traces of detergent or cleaning products that can generate chemical contamination of food, as well as utensils. It is necessary to have a table that is only for handling raw meats (it can be identified with the red color), another for vegetables (green) and another for cooked foods (of another color). It is also important to separate raw foods from prepared foods and from washed and sanitized raw vegetables or fruits. In the refrigerator, raw food should be kept separate from prepared food and stored in clean containers.

Inadequate cooking

For a correct cooking of the meat it is important to clarify the difference between a piece of whole meat and a portion of minced meat (for example, a hamburger or meatball). When mincing the meat, the contact surface is increased and, therefore, in case of presence of pathogens -on the surface of the cuts- these are distributed inside the preparation. In a piece of whole meat (steak, for example), if the outside cooking is correct, the destruction of potential bacteria through cooking can be ensured. Therefore, whole pieces of meat with a pink center are suitable for consumption by healthy adults who prefer “juicy” meat, but are not recommended in children, the elderly or immunosuppressed patients.

In the case of minced meat, cooking must be complete and even until the total disappearance of juices and pink areas. Ideally, check the core temperature with a meat prick thermometer. Possible pathogens are eliminated if the piece is subjected to more than 72ºC for at least 5 minutes. In the case of cooking, keeping in the refrigerator and reheating a food, it is necessary to do it until it is very hot to ensure its safety.

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