Proper handling and preparation of meats, fish, and poultry are critical because the potential for contamination and food poisoning is high. Contamination can occur at several levels. According to the Humane Farming Association, only a small percentage of the meat processed in U.S. slaughterhouses is tested for toxins (e.g., dioxins, PCBs, pesticides) that get into the meat supply either through the animals’ feed and/or water, or through direct means (injections of antibiotics, hormones). Contamination or compromise of meat, poultry, and fish can also occur anywhere during processing, from packing and shipping to the market and finally your kitchen. Therefore, consider these important guidelines.
Meat and Poultry
Buy organically produced meat and poultry. Compared with conventionally produced items, they expose you to significantly fewer age-accelerating and disease-causing substances.
Cook meat and poultry thoroughly and always check the temperature with a meat thermometer. Different meats and cuts have different safe temperatures, so be sure to check the cooking instructions. (See www.foodsafety. gov/~fsg/fs-cook.html for safe cooking temperatures.) Do not depend on the color of the meat to determine if it has been cooked adequately.
Thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator, which can take eight or more hours. If you need to defrost it more quickly, place it in a sealed plastic bag and immerse the bag in a pot of cold water for an hour.
Wash your hands with soap and hot water before and after handling raw meat.
Marinate meat and poultry in the refrigerator. Once the food has been marinated, discard the marinade because raw juice from the meat or poultry may contain bacteria.
Do not eat the organs (e.g., brains, livers, kidney) of livestock, because poisons accumulate in them.
Buy only fresh fish and seafood that is refrigerated or frozen.
Frozen fish should be in a package that is transparent so you can see sign of crystals or frost. If you do, the fish has been thawed and re-frozen.
Refrigerate or freeze fish immediately when you bring it home. You should also transport it in an ice chest in the car.
Do not buy shellfish that has a strong “fishy” smell, because it may be spoiled.
Rinse and rewrap fish when you get it home. Place it on paper towels, put it in a tightly covered container, and place it in the coldest part of the refrigerator.
Throw away any fat drippings from boiled or poached fish, as toxins accumulate in the fat.
Before cooking fish, remove skin and fatty tissue from the sides, belly, and along the top of the back. This is where many toxins accumulate. Mercury, however, accumulates mainly in the muscle, so it can’t be removed. To minimize your exposure to mercury, choose fish that typically contain low levels of mercury (e.g., salmon, herring, sardines, anchovies, tilapia). The U.S. FDA maintains a website that lists mercury levels in fish and seafood at www.cfsan.fda.gov/~frf/sea-mehg.html.
Cook fish and seafood until the internal temperature is at least 145°F; for stuffed fish, at least 165°F. (See www.foodsafety.gov/~fsg/fs-cook.html for safe cooking temperatures.)