Handling raw meat in your kitchen on a regular basis means that you need to be scrupulous about keeping spaces clean before, during and after you prepare the meat. But do you need to wash the meat itself?
Know Your Source
Whether you’re working with fish, chicken or beef, it’s critically important that you trust the source of your meat. A simple way to start checking out your local meat supplier is to follow your nose. A fish counter should smell like the sea. If it smells like fish, shop elsewhere.
Fresh meat shouldn’t have much odor at all. Beef, chicken and pork should be cold to the touch and visibly moist. Bad fresh meat will have a sweetish, tangy odor. Again, if you see any beef with grey tinges at the cut edges, shop elsewhere.
Should You Rinse Your Meat?
Per America’s food experts at the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture)
meat should not be rinsed for one specific reason: Your clean countertops and sink may actually be dirtier after the rinsing than before. Remember, you’re going to cook that meat, which means you will raise the temperature to a high enough level to kill any bacteria on the surface of the meat. Your newly contaminated countertop and sink will not get the benefit of added heat.
This recommendation holds true for both beef and chicken. You can spread illness-causing bacteria all over your kitchen by rinsing your chicken.
Additionally, rinsing meat can change the flavor, and not for the better. If you invest in boutiquemeats, you may waste very good flavor by washing it away. Rather than rinsing, consider adding a light coating of oil with a brush that will immediately be washed in very hot water. This will seal in the flavor on the surface of the meat and make it easier to get the meat hot enough to kill bacteria while preserving the flavor.
Focus On Safe Handling
Instead of worrying about washing the surface of the meat, concern yourself with protecting your kitchen from any bacteria on the surface of the meat. Don’t store fresh meat in your refrigerator unless you have set it on a vessel that will hold any blood or other fluids that may leak out of the packaging.
Keep this container on a low shelf so that if this fluid does drip, it doesn’t contaminate every shelf. Unwrap the meat on that same vessel, give it the treatments you want, such as a marinade or brining, and place it in the cooking pan. Discard the wrappings and thoroughly wash the storage vessel.
For Best Flavor, Use Fresh
If you spend the extra money to purchase fresh butcher meat, the best thing you can do is cook it while it’s fresh. Freezing meat dehydrates it and can make it chewy and tough. Meat that’s fresh from the slaughter will maintain much better flavor if it never gets colder than a save refrigeration temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit / 4.44 Celsius.
Treat Your Kitchen Tools With Care
Make sure that you keep a separate cutting board for meats. This cutting board should be treated with bleach at the end of the meat prep process, then run through the dishwasher. Some cutting boards can absorb the flavors of the chemicals they’re cleaned with. However, you need to use bleach first before washing your meat cutting board to kill bacteria such as e coli and salmonella.
Take Care When Cooking Rare
When cooking chicken, it needs to get at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit internally to safely kill all bacteria. Beef needs to be cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
Even the best hamburger should be cooked until well done. Investigations done by Consumer Reports indicate that fecal waste was found in several samplings of ground beef, even those from organic and grass-fed sources. This appears to be a processing problem.
For the foreseeable future, it appears that meat should not be washed but purchased from a clean grocer or meat counter. Freshness counts for a great deal for the best texture and flavor, and ground meat should not be served rare for the safety of you and your diners.