Beef, lamb, and pork are a good source of protein for your family, and they’re rich in vitamins and minerals. But raw meat may carry bacteria and other germs that can make you sick unless you know what you’re doing. So here are some tips and information about how to shop for it, store and cook it, plus how to clean up properly.

Sanitize the handle of your shopping cart.

Beware! Bacteria and other germs may be lurking on the handle of the shopping cart you choose. So take one of those free sanitizer wipes commonly found by the carts and wipe down the handle. There’s no sense in taking the risk of bringing someone else’s germs to your home.

Don’t make the meat department one of your first stops.

Bacteria grow well when meat is left out at room temperature. You want to keep it well chilled. That’s why picking up raw meat should be one of the last things you should do before checkout.

Make sure the meat is fresh.

You should buy meat that is as fresh as possible. Here’s what to look for:

Feature Fresh Meat Spoiled Meat
Color Beef Bright cherry red
Lamb Bright red
Pork Light pink meat; firm white fat
Beef Brown or green
Lamb Brown, somewhat white surface covering the lean meat.
Pork Excessively dark color; soft fat
Odor No odor Sour odor
Texture Firm flesh that springs
back when touched
Flesh that is slimy, sticky, or dry
Packaging Packaging that is intact & clean Packaging that is torn, dirty, or has broken seals

And here’s another shopping tip: When you’re buying frozen meat, make sure there are no large ice crystals on the food or the packaging. That’s a sign it was thawed and refrozen. Once thawed, bacteria may have had a chance to grow & could make you or your family sick.

Buy meat before the “sell-by” date.

The sell-by date on a package of meat lets store employees know how long they have to sell it. While the date is meant to ensure quality, we and the USDA recommend you buy raw meat before the sell-by date.

Bag raw meat before placing it into your cart.

Most every meat department provides disposable plastic bags. Use them! They can stop meat juices from leaking onto your other groceries, and that could lead to trouble for you and your loved ones.

Shop Safely for Meat

Store raw meat away from other food in your cart.

Don’t put packages of raw meat on top of ready-to-eat food such as produce, bread or deli items. That’s just asking for trouble. Put it on the bottom rack of the cart where you typically put a case of water or soda.

Sanitize your hands after touching raw meat.

It’s a good idea to use a little hand sanitizer after touching packages of raw meat. It will stop you from spreading bacteria to other food and surfaces in the store. A pocket or purse-size bottle of sanitizer is a good thing to have with you whenever you go to the store.

Bag meat safely when using the self-checkout.

If you are bagging your own groceries, make sure you don’t bag raw meat with ready-to-eat food. Otherwise that pot roast you just bought could end up leaking onto your other foods. And always double-bag packages of raw meat. That second bag might just be what saves you or your family from getting sick.

Keep meat cool on the car ride home.

Be sure not to let raw meat get warm on the way home, especially during the summer months! Get in the habit of storing meat in insulated shopping bags or use a good old-fashioned cooler to keep things chilled. If you can, avoid putting perishables in the trunk where temperatures can rise quickly on sunny days.

Keep your shopping route as short as possible.

When you’re done buying groceries, go home and put them away. Running a bunch of other errands after shopping can put your food at risk, so make the market your last stop before going home.

Refrigerate meat promptly.

Bring your groceries in and get the meat in the refrigerator at warp speed! Leaving raw meat out any longer than need be might be enough to give bacteria a chance to grow – and that can lead to you or your family getting sick. Why take the chance?

Store meat at the correct temperature.

Your refrigerator should be set to hold food at an internal temperature of 40°F (4°C) or lower. That’s especially important for raw meat. If you’re not sure about your refrigerator, check the temperature of a piece of meat with a thermometer. If the temperature is above 40°F (4°C), lower the temperature of your refrigerator.

Label leftover meat before storing it.

Labeling leftovers will help you know when it’s time to toss them. Leftover meat and
meat dishes kept at 40°F (4°C) or lower should remain good to eat for up to seven days.
That means if you prepared a delicious beef stew on Monday, the use-by date for those leftovers would be Sunday.

Store raw meat away from other food.

Don’t let fluids from raw meat drip onto other food in your refrigerator. Putting the raw meat in a closed container is the best way to prevent this. You can use a deep pan as long as it’s overed with plastic wrap. Or you can put raw meat into large food-storage bags. Want an even better solution? Buy a food-storage container with a lid and use it only for raw meat. One more thing: Always store raw meat on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator.

Store Meat SafelyA well-organized refridgerator

Don’t thaw meat at room temperature.

Your mom probably did it, and maybe your grandma did, too. But thawing food on the counter is a family tradition you should put a end to because when meat is thawed at room temperature, any bacteria on it will grow. The longer the meat sits out, the more likely it is that the bacteria will grow to unsafe levels and make you or your family sick. See the General Food Safety section for different ways you can thaw food safely.

Separate raw and ready-to-eat food.

It’s really important when you’re preparing raw food, such as meat, and food that will not be cooked, such as lettuce, to keep them separate. One of the worst things you can do is cut up these food items on the same cutting board. That can make you or your family sick! Pick up a set of colored cutting boards. Typically, you see them in sets of red, green, yellow, and blue – each color is meant to be used for a different type of food: blue for raw seafood only, red for raw meat, yellow for raw poultry, and the green for produce. Add a white cutting board for cooked food and you’re well on your way to preventing the spread of bacteria in your kitchen.

Separate Foods with Color Cutting Boards Cutting Meat

Wash your hands after handling raw meat.

This is especially important before handling ready-to-eat food. See the General Food Safety section for some hand washing tips that will help keep your family safe.

Cook raw meat to the correct temperature.

The only way to kill bacteria on meat is to cook it to the correct temperature. That’s the internal temperature of the food, not the temperature of what you’re using to cook it. You’ll need a thermometer to do this correctly. Here are the cooking temperatures for beef, pork, veal, and lamb. The food must stay at these temperatures for at least 15 seconds, for roasts it must stay there for four minutes.

Icon Meat Temperature

Ground Meat

  • sausage
  • ground beef
160°F (71°C)

Steaks / Chops / Roasts

145°F (63°C)

Never leave cooked meat out for long periods of time.

Once you’ve finished eating dinner, it’s okay to take a break, right? Wrong! If your evening meal sits out for an hour or more, that could be trouble. Cooking food doesn’t necessarily kill all of the bacteria on it. Any that remains could grow if the food is left at room temperature.

You might be tempted to put hot meat in the refrigerator to cool it. Don’t! Most refrigerators can’t cool hot food fast enough anyway. Instead, place smaller cuts of meat into plastic storage bags and then put them in a clean sink full of cold water. Adding ice to the water will cool the meat down even faster. If you’re trying to cool a large roast, cut it into smaller pieces first. Then put them in storage bags and cool them in cold water. One last thing: When serving meat buffet-style for a dinner party, make sure it doesn’t sit out for more than four hours. Any longer than that and you’ll have to throw it out.

Reheat meat to the correct temperature.

If you’re reheating leftover meat or meat dishes for a meal, it’s safe to reheat them to any temperature. But if you are keeping the meat warm while serving it buffet style, you have to reheat it to at least 165°F (74°C). And it can’t take longer than two hours to do it.


Clean and sanitize after preparing raw meat.

Don’t just clean, be sure to sanitize, too. Yes, it is another step but it doesn’t take a lot of time. And it’s an important step to keep yourself and your family safe.

Any equipment used to prepare meat must be washed, rinsed and sanitized. That includes your countertops, knives, cutting boards, tongs and other utensils. Just rinsing does no good and will only put you and others at risk. See the General Food Safety section to find out how to clean and sanitize safely – it can be quick and easy.