General Meat Handling Guide for Your Cooks … For Real

I’ve been surprising my food safety students lately and informing them that if the meat is freshly slaughtered and butchered safely, they can basically eat it raw, i.e. steak tartare or carpaccio, as other people enjoy raw fish, i.e. sashimi or sushi. This seems to shock them. I actually enjoy seeing some of them react with a startled jump. LOL … here’s the concept, just as if fish is fresh, fresh, fresh, and been handled properly, we can enjoy it raw. Same with meat. If meat is really fresh and been butchered properly, same concept, we can enjoy it raw or rare.

Reality is that we don’t get meat freshly slaughtered. Meat can be the source of much foodborne illness and much care has to be applied in its handling. I hope the following can serve as a General Meat Handling Guide for your cooks.

Purchase: Only from an approved food source, inspected and in compliance with all laws possible; local, state and federal. In the United States all meat must have the inspection stamp on it from the USDA.


  • Make sure Frozen Meat is frozen solid like a rock. Tap it. Reject the order if even just partially frozen
  • Take a temperature check with a calibrated thermometer. If refrigerated, 41° F or lower please
  • Confirm USDA Inspection Stamp on packaging
  • Check packaging intact
  • Check color
  • Check not slimy
  • Check no funky smells
  • Press on the meat to see that it bounces back. If it leaves an indentation, it has passed its moment (dead too long)


  • Put meat away immediately whether in the freezer or the refrigerator.
  • Follow FIFO, First In First Out Concept. Pull older frozen burgers forward in your freezer and place the newer products behind the older products. I always have this fear that every restaurant has a box of frozen burgers in the back corner of their freezer because new deliveries keep getting placed on top of or in front of the older product
  • Follow correct placement order in your refrigerator – from top to bottom, foods should be placed in descending order: Ready-to-Eat (RTE) foods (Cold Cuts), Fish, whole Meat, Ground Meat, Poultry on bottom. Placement is based upon danger level of each food. Safest on top, most dangerous on bottom, reflected by cooking temperatures.
  • Consider placing meat on sheet pans or in tubs so meat doesn’t drip below cross contaminating the product underneath.
  • Day dot or date meat if you transfer or divide into smaller portions. (I don’t understand a restaurant that has raw hamburger on the top shelf in their fridge with no date.)


  • Wash your hands.
  • Use clean and sanitized utensils
  • Keep meat under refrigeration until you use it.  Keep meat out of the TDZ (Temperature Danger Zone) 41°F – 135°F
  • Don’t cross contaminate. Use different colored specific equipment (i.e. cutting boards) for different food items
  • Consider prepping raw meats in a separate section of your kitchen versus another section for RTE foods. If this is not possible, please prep raw meats at different times as others are prepping RTE foods
  • If you have to defrost meat please follow these four approved methods:

1) refrigerator, at 41°F or below. 2) under running potable water – no higher than 70°F, 3) microwave, only if cooked immediately 4) part of the cooking process.


  • Don’t cross contaminate. Use a clean plate to transfer cooked meat and don’t use the same plate that the raw meat was held in.  Consider using separate tongs for cooked meat versus raw meat (kinda hard).
  • Heat is what kills the harmful pathogens that make us sick. Thus cooking temperatures are very important to be followed properly to kill any harmful pathogens that can be in or have approached the outside of the meat.
  • Put a Consumer Advisory on your menu if you serve raw, rare or medium rare cooked meats as they really don’t reach the minimum cooking temperatures recommended by the FDA Food Code.

I hope this info helps as a General Meat Handling Guide for your cooks.  Stay safe!

About the Author

Juliet Bodinetz is executive director of Bilingual Hospitality Training Solutions and has over 30 years industry and training experience. She and her team of instructors specialize in food safety, alcohol training and ServSafe training in English or in Spanish and writing HACCP Plans in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. area., or 443-838-7561. For latest food safety tips: Become a fan on Facebook or Twitter: @BHTS

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