Whether navigating the meat case at your local grocery store or preparing dinner at home, we all want safe meat. Registered dietitian Carolyn O’Neil gets answers to her questions about meat related to labeling claims like “natural,” “antibiotic free,” or “hormone free,” as well as insights on organic meat and how to keep all meat safe when preparing at home.
Carolyn: For shoppers choosing meats, poultry and pork, what should they be thinking about? And, at home, how can we prevent food safety problems?
Dr. Doyle: When you shop for any food of animal origin, whether it's poultry, beef or lamb, there’s a possibility that harmful microbes can be present. So we treat them with respect.
- Wash hands after handling food to eliminate cross contamination in the kitchen
- Use a paper towel once and then throw it away; reusing it can spread bacteria
- Cook meat to the recommended internal temperature
- Cool leftovers down quickly, store in the refrigerator and consume in a few days
Carolyn: What about buying organic or natural meats? Do you lower your risk in any way by doing that?
Dr. Doyle: USDA certification for organic use does not address food safety, so it doesn’t mean these foods are safer. Sometimes you can find fewer pesticides, but when we talk about these harmful microbes, you don’t necessarily find less harmful microbes in organic foods than you would find in conventionally raised foods.
Carolyn: If packaging on meats says “natural,” “antibiotic free,” or “hormone free,” do you think that clouds the picture? It sounds like if it says “no antibiotics” then there is the implication that all the other meats in the case have antibiotic residue.
Dr. Doyle: There was an article in Consumer Reports stating that scientists found salmonella antibiotic resistance not only in conventionally raised chickens treated with antibiotics, but also in chicken that did not receive antibiotics and in chicken that was organically grown. Just because it says it’s been organically grown or free of antibiotics doesn’t mean the antibiotic-resistant bacteria are not present.
Carolyn: So what’s a shopper to do?
Dr. Doyle: Use good food handling practices. Always wash your hands. This is one of the first recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control regarding good food handling practices and a lot of people forget about it.