What’s the “Beef” with Meat Safety?
In an industry of ever-changing regulations, it's every restauranteur's responsibility to stay on top of the consistently adapting climate, especially when it comes to the meat they serve.
The Importance of Meat Food Safety
The restaurant industry adopts a stern approach for the handling and storing of meat. Admittedly, animal products are particularly prone to bacteria growth, which are usually harmful to humans. Also, foodborne illnesses contribute significantly to the burden of public health, with1 in every 6 Americans getting sick from their diets yearly.
When restaurants pay attention to meat safety regulations, these health risks are reduced drastically. While there’s a role that animal agriculture plays, it is the restaurant’s responsibility to ensure all products served are safe for consumption.
The History Behind Meat Safety
The cleanliness and safety of the meat supply are not new to the public. Compromised meat has always been associated with diseases. In the U.S., several acts were passed to protect the wholesomeness of meat, including salted pork, bacon, and dressed beef.
Due to rumors circulating around the world of diseased American livestock, a bill was passed in 1890 that demanded a final inspection of any meats before exportation outside of the country.
Although there were laws providing some meat safety guidelines, there still was not a nationally accepted meat inspection system set in place. By 1906, the public outcry over the inadequate inspection and unsanitary conditions of slaughterhouses led to the comprehensive Meat Inspection Act of 1906. Still, the act did not provide adequate coverage for consumers.
The Wholesome Meat Act of 1967 took it further with more stringent regulations. The laws have since progressed. In recent times, advances in toxicology and microbiology allow inspectors to identify the specific description and causes of many foodborne diseases.
Challenges and Risks
The level of awareness on food safety and the more significant tilt to healthy eating has since tipped the scale for the restaurant industry. Here are a few challenges you might face to ensure meat safety in your restaurant-
- Cross-contamination of food, water, and workspaces within restaurants is a major concern when working with meat products. Exposing other ingredients to pathogens found in meat can lead to outbreaks of foodborne illness. It is necessary to follow all guidelines behind the proper storage and handling of meat to ensure issues related to food poisoning do not arise.
- Cases related to food poisoning and foodborne illness outbreaks are commonplace in today’s day-and-age. Many cases are reported each year and a large number of them are due to improper meat safety procedures. Issues related to the contamination of meat products, whether improperly handled or improperly maintained, can lead to millions of dollars in legal fees and reparation charges. This is a daunting number for not only larger franchised businesses but also smaller restaurants who would not be able to recover from a legal case associated with improper meat safety.
- Improper food safety procedures can lead to catastrophic results for businesses in the food industry. Not only does this responsibility fall on the business owner, but also on those who handle and work with the food. One such risk associated with meat safety is the interaction between food handlers and meat products. Issues related to the improper hygiene of those handling or interacting with meat happen frequently. It is imperative for business owners to ensure the highest standard of care and hygiene for their employees to avoid issues with the contamination of meat products.
Meat Safety for Poultry
Meat safety always begins with the supplier. Find a reliable source and confirm their meat safety procedures before purchasing. It’s best to have a few suppliers on-hand. You can even find a different supplier for different types of meat.
Purchase poultry with a “fresh” appearance. If it looks faded or is tough in texture, the meat may have been exposed to harmful bacteria.
Pay particular attention to the preparation process, as well. Any undercooked piece of poultry can cause the spread of salmonella. Cook the meat thoroughly at 165°F for both ground and whole poultry.
Meat Safety for Fish
Meat safety for fish is affected by a range of factors including cooking methods, as well as the quality and type of fish. While paying attention to the specific cooking instructions for each fish type, there are a few general safety measures you can adopt.
Start by cooking fish all the way through, although some sushi-grade fish can be prepared medium-rare or raw. Cooked fish should be easy to cut. If fresh fish is being made ready to be cooked shortly after preparation, refrigerate at 40°F.
Proceed with caution when preparing meals that call for raw fish, like sushi. Ensure you serve sushi-grade fish to minimize risks and exposure. For your fresh fish supplies, try freezing at -4°F for one week before preparing.
Work stations and cutting boards must also be taken into consideration. Bacteria spread quickly across surfaces, so ensure that all equipment and materials are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected after every use to prevent cross-contamination.
Meat Safety for Beef
Similar to poultry, beef safety beings with the initial purchase. Buy beef that is cold to the touch. Look out for holes and tears in the packaging, as exposure to air increases the chances of contamination. Also, avoid beef that is discolored, dark brown, slimy, tough, or emits a strong odor.
When cooking beef, avoid preparing meat on the same surface as other cooking materials. This will minimize the spread of bacteria. Cook whole meat at 145°F; ground beef should be cooked with an instant-read meat thermometer at 160°F. Cook steaks and roast at 145°F then let sit for at least 3 minutes before consumption. This gives the heat time to kill extra bacteria.
Regarding storage, store beef in a refrigerator for three days. For beef that has a long waiting period before consumption, freezing is the best option. Keep your freezer around 0°F and your refrigerator around 34°F.