This past weekend, sub-zero temperatures settled in after a blizzard dumped about eight inches of snow in our neighborhood. Since escaping to Rio wasn’t really an option, our household turned to the next best thing to chase away the wintry blues: a slow cooker fully of meat, spicy, tomato-y chili. My mother-in-law’s recipe calls for a pound of ground beef and a pound of ground venison (yes, we do like some of our meat very free-range), so I dug these out of the chest freezer in anticipation of a hot supper on a chilly night.
The ground beef was packed in a plastic film pouch bearing safe handling instructions. This collection of text, along with darling little icons of a fridge, soapy hands, a skillet and lollipop-style thermometer, is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.
In 1994, the mandate for safe handling instructions displayed on virtually all federally inspected meat products was enacted. If you’d like to fall asleep to dreams of the safe handling icons dancing around you, I recommend you read FSIS Directive 7235.1 in full. The logic behind this rule is sound. The safe handling instructions clearly distinguish raw and partially cooked meat products from fully cooked ones, so consumers clearly know how to prepare these foods safely. The four basic principles of proper storage, cleanliness, thorough cooking, and temperature management greatly reduce the risk of food-borne illnesses which Foodsafety.gov describes in detail on their food poisoning page.
Since I didn’t really fancy seeing any of these nasty conditions develop in my husband or myself, I made my chili with the safe handling instructions in mind.
Keep Refrigerated or Frozen
Keep Raw Meat and Poultry Separate from Other Foods.
The beef and venison were initially stored in our chest freezer and then partially thawed in the refrigerator. I like to keep raw meat in a container with high walls in case the packaging ever leaks. The container will limit the spread of the spill and be much easier to clean than a refrigerator drawer.
Thaw in refrigerator or microwave
The meat wasn’t entirely thawed by the time I needed to cook it, so I removed the meat from the film pouches and put it in a microwave-safe dish before covering it with wax paper and thawing for the recommended amount of time. (Note the differences in color between the venison, left, and beef, right. I’ll definitely have a post about what causes this in the future!)
Never use the color as the ultimate deciding factor for whether meat is cooked thoroughly. It can serve as a guide, but a meat thermometer inserted into the geometric middle of meat gives the best measurement of doneness. Notice the 181 degrees on the display. Winner!
Wash Working Surfaces (including Cutting Boards), Utensils, and Hands after Touching Raw Meat or Poultry
Everything used for thawing and cooking the meat that was dishwasher-safe went into the dishwasher. The rest was washed by hand using hot, soapy water, and the working surfaces were sanitized with kitchen cleaner.
Keep Hot Foods Hot
The fully cooked meat was added to the other chili ingredients already heated up in the slow cooker. After we finished our meal, the remaining chili was promptly dished into leftover containers and put in the refrigerator to cool down.
So remember: as you make your , heartwarming soups and stews in this bone-chilling season, follow the safe handling instructions if your recipe starts with raw meat, and always follow the basic steps of Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill promoted by Foodsafety.gov, regardless of what goes into your pot.