Meat is a perishable food. When buying and handling chilled meat from the markets and supermarkets to storage in your home, make sure that you keep the chilled meat in a clean and cold condition until you are ready to cook it. Increase in temperature of the chilled meat above the recommended temperatures (0° - 4°) can shorten its shelf life. Refrigeration alone cannot guarantee a long shelf life of meat. Hygiene and packaging are very important as well. The following tips will help you ensure that the meat you buy retains its quality and safety for consumption.
1. Buying chilled and frozen meat
Assess the meat by its fresh appearance and smell. For example, pork should be firm and pinkish in colour. The meat colour should not be excessively dark or show abnormal discolouration. The fat should be white. The skin surfaces should not be sticky or slimy. There should not be any sourish, stale or other off odours in properly chilled fresh meat.
Buy only meat that has been stored under the proper refrigerated conditions. Fresh chilled or frozen meat should not be overloaded above the load level of the chiller or freezer display unit. Excessive 'sweating' caused by condensation of moisture on the meat surface is an indication that the meat has not been handled properly. Frozen meat should be solid and chilled meat should feel cold.
Buy in quantities that will meet your needs, 3 days for chilled meat and 2 weeks for frozen meat at most, so that you do not have to store them for prolonged periods in your refrigerator. Avoid meat packages that are torn or leaking. When purchasing meat in vacuum packages, check that the plastic bag clings tightly around the meat. If it does not, it could be that the seal is incomplete or the packaging is damaged.
2. Storage in the refrigerator
Place the meat in the refrigerator as soon as it is delivered. Separately wrap the raw meat and poultry tightly in clean plastic bags to avoid excessive evaporation during storage. Place the fresh meat in the coldest section of your refrigerator and always store raw meats at the bottom of the refrigerator.
Do not allow the raw juices to drip onto or contact other foods by using plastic bags or placing the meat and poultry on a plate. Space items in the refrigerator or freezer so that the cold air can circulate freely around them.
Do not open refrigerator/freezer doors more often than necessary and close them as soon as possible. If you need to freeze the meat, divide into portions based on your normal serving size. It is not advisable to refreeze meat that has been thawed out from frozen meat.
Practice the First-in-First-Out principle by using the older stock first. For best quality, keep meat in the chiller compartment for not more than 3 days in the freezer compartment for not more than 2 weeks.
The more cutting and preparation meat has been subject to, the shorter the storage time. Hence, minced meat has a shorter storage life.
Keep the interior of the refrigerator/freezer clean. It is a good practice to clean and defrost your refrigerator/freezer every three months so that they will work efficiently.
3. Handling chilled and frozen meat
Take out from the refrigerator only the amount you need to avoid having to chill excess meat again or refreeze excess thawed out meat. Do not leave chilled meat exposed at room temperature for more than 2 hours as bacteria can multiply rapidly when the temperature of meat warms up.
Do not thaw frozen meat on the kitchen counter at room temperature. Instead, you should thaw the frozen meat by the following ways:
Overnight in the refrigerator
In a microwave oven
Under cold water with the meat kept within a watertight plastic bag. Change the water every 30 minutes.
The meat should be kept from the start of thawing at below the 5° (below the Danger Zone temperatures). After thawing in the refrigerator, minced meat and poultry should remain usable for another day or two before cooking. Red meat (pork, beef and mutton) can be kept for 3 to 5 days. Meat that are thawed by microwave or cold water submersion should be cooked promptly because they may have been held at temperatures above 5°C. Make sure thaw juices do not drip on other food.
4. Hygienic Preparation
Wash your hands, kitchen utensils and table tops with soapy water thoroughly before and after handling the raw meat. Do not cross-contaminate between raw meat and cooked meat or other cooked foods to avoid risks of food poisoning. Use separate serving plates and utensils for raw and cooked foods. Remember these few basic rules for your meat:
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