Summer means meat on the braai. It means brimming bowls of potato salad, cole slaw, and mielies. It also means that it’s time to step up your food-safety game. Otherwise, you’ll be trading that afternoon game of touch for a sprint to the bathroom. We won’t argue that every man is king of his charcoal. Prepare your steaks and doctor your burgers as you see fit. But when it comes to how you handle your meat—go ahead, have your Beavis moment—every man should stick to smart food-safety protocols.
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If you’re thawing meat, the odds of being tethered to the toilet depend on your defrosting method. If you bring it to room temperature—by letting it just sit out until it thaws enough to cook—anything you don’t put on the grill should go is in the garbage. That’s because the amount of gut-churning salmonella and E. coli in thawed, uncooked meat can double in as little as 20 minutes. Martin Bucknavage, a food safety specialist at Penn State University, suggests a better way of prepping your meat for the grill: Defrost it in the refrigerator. “You have to plan ahead, get the timing down for your meal, but thawing in the refrigerator is much, much safer,” he insists. Take it out about 30 minutes prior to grilling, and you’re good to go.
If you defrost in the fridge, it’s also safe to refreeze within one to two days, according to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. Still, “safe” doesn’t mean “appetizing.” If you refreeze thawed meat, you create more ice crystals inside the tissues. This draws out moisture and flavour. A better idea: Buy only as much meat as you need for one braai. Unless you live in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, you don’t need that much frozen meat.
Here’s more meat-handling tips from Bucknavage:
Be extra hygienic
“I see people handling raw meat and poultry in the kitchen like it’s no big deal, and it’s nausea-inducing,” says Bucknavage. “Put the packaging in the garbage immediately. Clean your cutting boards. Don’t put the cooked burgers back on the same plate you took them off before you put them on the grill. That kind of thing.”
Invest in a good meat thermometer
“The USDA has a chart online with proper internal temps for any kind of meat, but think about 70 for burgers, 73 for poultry, 60 for a medium rare steak.”
There’s no such thing as a three-second rule
“You’re going to pick up whatever that steak landed on, so it’s important you go wash it off. Sorry, but if it falls on bird droppings or something, that contamination can be picked up right away.”