Page 2: What is the safe food handling label now on
meat and poultry packages?
food handling label should be on all raw or partially precooked (not
ready-to-eat) meat and poultry packages. The label tells the consumer how to
safely store, prepare, and handle raw meat and poultry products in the home.
What kind of bacteria can be in ground beef? Are they dangerous?
Bacteria are everywhere in our environment. Any
food of animal origin can harbor bacteria. Pathogenic bacteria, such as
Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157:H7, Campylobacter jejuni, Listeria
monocytogenes, and Staphylococcus aureus, cause illness. These harmful bacteria
can not be seen or smelled.
When meat is ground, more of the meat is exposed to the harmful bacteria.
Bacteria multiply rapidly in the "Danger Zone" — temperatures between 40 and 140
°F. To keep bacterial levels low, store ground beef at 40 °F or less and use
within 2 days, or freeze. To destroy harmful bacteria, cook ground beef to 160
Other bacteria cause spoilage. Spoilage bacteria are generally not harmful, but
they will cause food to deteriorate or lose quality by developing a bad odor or
feeling sticky on the outside.
Why is the E. coli O157:H7 bacterium of special concern in ground beef?
E. coli O157:H7 can colonize in the intestines
of animals, which could contaminate muscle meat at slaughter.
O157:H7 is a strain of E. coli that produces large quantities of a potent toxin
that forms in the intestine and causes severe damage to the lining of the
intestine. The disease produced by the bacteria is called Hemorrhagic Colitis.
E. coli O157:H7 survive refrigerator and freezer temperatures. Once they get in
food, they can multiply very slowly at temperatures as low as 44 °F. The actual
infectious dose is unknown, but most scientists believe it takes only a small
number of this strain of E. coli to cause serious illness and even death,
especially in children. It is killed by thorough cooking.
Illnesses caused by E. coli O157:H7 have been linked with the consumption of
undercooked ground beef. Raw milk, apple cider, dry cured sausage, and
undercooked roast beef have also been implicated.
Can bacteria spread from one surface to another?
Yes. It is called cross-contamination. Bacteria
in raw meat juices can contaminate foods that have been cooked safely or raw
foods that won't be cooked, such as salad ingredients. Bacteria can also be
present on equipment, hands, and even in the air.
To avoid cross-contamination, wash your hands with soap and hot water before and
after handling ground beef to make sure you don't spread bacteria. Don't reuse
any packaging materials. Use soap and hot water to wash utensils and surfaces
which have come into contact with the raw meat. Don't put cooked hamburgers on
the same platter that held the raw patties.
What's the best way to handle raw ground beef when I buy it?
At the store, choose a package that is not torn
and feels cold. If possible, enclose it in a plastic bag so leaking juices won't
drip on other foods. Make ground beef one of the last items to go into your
shopping cart. Separate raw meat from ready-cooked items in your cart. Have the
clerk bag raw meat, poultry, and fish separately from other items.
Plan to drive directly home from the grocery store. You may want to take a
cooler with ice for perishables.
How should raw ground beef be stored at home?
Refrigerate or freeze ground beef as soon as
possible after purchase. This preserves freshness and slows growth of bacteria.
It can be refrigerated or frozen in its original packaging if the meat will be
If refrigerated, keep at 40 °F or below and use within 1 or 2 days.
For longer freezer storage, wrap in heavy duty plastic wrap, aluminum foil,
freezer paper, or plastic bags made for freezing. Ground beef is safe
indefinitely if kept frozen, but will lose quality over time. It is best if used
within 4 months. Mark your packages with the date they were placed in the
freezer so you can keep track of storage times.
United States Department of Agriculture
Food Safety and Inspection Service