"Better safe than sorry" isn't just a saying when it comes to food safety. It might be the difference between a delicious meal and sending someone to the hospital with a nasty case of food poisoning. And if you're buying packaged ground beef, chances are good you don't really know what you're getting. Did you know that ground beef you buy at the store isn't as simple as a piece of raw meat run through a grinder? Most pre-packaged hamburger meat is actually a combination of various grades of meat from different parts of cows and even from different slaughterhouses.
There's a simple solution to knowing exactly where your meat is coming from: process it yourself. Grinding your own meat lets you know exactly what is going into what you'll be eating.
Food Safety When Grinding
Once you've realized that taking matters into your own hands is the safest, and most delicious, option, there are some food-safety tips to keep in mind when grinding.
- Keep your beef in the fridge until you're ready to use it and only pull it out once you're ready to cut the meat into cubes.
- After you've cut or sliced your meat in preparation for grinding, pop it back in the freezer for 30 minutes. This will make it easier to grind, and cold meat is safer from a food-safety standpoint.
- As a general rule of thumb, never leave ground beef out at room temperature for more than an hour. Leaving raw meat sitting out allows bacteria to develop.
- Resist the urge to taste test any of your raw ground beef to check for seasonings and flavor. Some chefs may do this, but the USDA discourages eating or tasting raw or undercooked ground beef. If you're just not sure about the flavor and want to taste test it, cook up about a tablespoon of meat in a pan or skillet before continuing.
After you've finished grinding, it's time to get cooking. It's important to make sure you cook any meat thoroughly to the correct internal temperature. Investing in an instant-read thermometer will take the guesswork out of cooking. And now you don't have to waste time scouring through cookbooks looking for your internal temperature chart while your dinner burns--check out the handy guide below to figure out when done is done.
Beef and Lamb Internal Temperature Guide
Extra-rare or Blue: 115 degrees F (deep red color and barely warm; meat should feel soft and squishy)
Rare: 120-125 degrees F (center is bright red, pinkish toward edges, and warm throughout; meat should feel soft to the touch)
Medium rare: 130-135 degrees F (center is very pink, slightly brown toward edges, and slightly hot; meat should yield only slightly to the touch, beginning to firm up)
Medium: 140-145 degrees F (center is light pink, outer edges are brown, and hot throughout; meat should yield only slightly to the touch, beginning to firm up)
Well-done: 160 degrees F and higher (meat is uniformly brown or grey throughout and hard to the touch)
Ground meat: 160-165 degrees F (no longer pink but uniformly brown throughout)
Properly cooked ground beef can be safely refrigerated for about three days, assuming you refrigerate it within an hour of cooking. If you're not planning to eat it right away, cooked ground beef can be frozen for up to a couple of months without losing its quality.