Different kinds of meat have unique properties when it comes to preparation and storage. While it may be perfectly safe to eat one type of meat a week after it was prepared or to freeze other types to eat later, there are safety issues associated with whatever you may be eating. A healthy kitchen depends on proper knowledge of how to safely cook and store your food.

Handling Meat

When preparing any type of meat, fish, or poultry, make sure to wash your hands frequently, and prepare the meat on a separate surface from other cooking materials. Germs spread easily, so keep vegetables and other ingredients away from meat, especially if you are not cooking them together in the same dish. Use separate cutting boards and clean all cooking utensils after they come into contact with raw meat.

Storage

As a general rule, uncured raw meat, such as ground hamburger meat, lasts around three days safely in the refrigerator. If you are planning to keep uncooked meat longer, then freezing the meat in airtight packaging is your best bet. If packaged correctly in a traditional home freezer, meat can last several months.

Safe freezing and refrigeration time also depends on the temperature of the freezer and refrigerator. The closer to 0 degrees that the freezer is kept, the more likely it is to stay fresh and retain nutrients.  Refrigerators should be kept at around 34 degrees —just above freezing— to effectively prolong the shelf-life of foods. Below is a general guide to how long basic meats can be kept safely if they are stored properly in the refrigerator or freezer.

Refrigerated

  • Uncooked Poultry: 2 days
  • Cooked Poultry: 4 days
  • Uncooked Beef: 2 days
  • Cooked Beef: 4 days
  • Uncooked Fish: 2 days
  • Cooked Fish:  4 days

Frozen

  • Uncooked Poultry: 6 months
  • Cooked Poultry: 4 months
  • Uncooked Beef: 6 months
  • Cooked Beef: 4 months
  • Uncooked Fish: 6 months
  • Cooked Fish: 4 months

Rare to Well-Done

The spectrum of rare to well-done depends on the temperature at the center of the meat. In order to accurately discern this temperature, use a meat thermometer, available at kitchen supply stores and in most grocery stores. Typically, rare meat ranges from 120 to 125 degrees at the center of the meat, medium ranges from 140 to 145, and well-done meat is more than 160 degrees at the center. Very rare, medium rare, medium well all fall below or within this temperature spectrum.

Meat

The most common meats include beef, pork, and lamb. While each meat shares similar attributes, they must be prepared according to their unique characteristics. While it is always safer to err on the side of “well done” when cooking meat, beef and lamb have a fairly wide spectrum of what is considered safe to eat—many people safely enjoy beef and lamb cooked only to rare. Pork, however, should be cooked at the high end of medium spectrum because several types of worms can flourish in pork if it is not cooked at a high enough temperature.

Poultry

Poultry has an even smaller safety spectrum than pork. As a general rule cook all poultry to 165 degrees at the center of the meat. Poultry should always be cooked all the way through; rare poultry can carry numerous diseases including salmonella.

Fish

Fish, like beef and lamb, has a wide spectrum of safe cooking methods which change depending on the type and quality of fish you are cooking and what methods are used to cook the fish. Sushi for instance, is prepared raw but according to very specific guidelines that should not attempted without special training. As a rule, fish is best prepared at between 125 to 145 degrees, depending on the type of fish. Medium rare is often acceptable, but you should consult cooking directions relating specifically to the type of fish being prepared.