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Why? Why cook meat?

To use our nutrition in formation

Sunset recipes contain nutrition information based on the most current data available from the USDA for calorie count; grams of protein, total fat (including saturated fat), and carbohydrate; and milligrams of sodium and cholesterol.

This analysis is usually given for a single serving, based on the largest number of servings listed for the recipe. Or it's for a specific amount, such as per tablespoon (for sauces).

The nutrition analysis does not include optional ingredients or those for which no specific amount is stated (salt added to taste, for example). If an ingredient is listed with an alternative, the figures are calculated using the first choice or a comparable food. Likewise, if a range is given for the amount of an ingredient (such as 1/2 to 1 cup butter), values are figured on the first, lower amount.

Recipes using regular-strength chicken broth are based on the sodium content of salt-free homemade or canned broth. If you use canned salted chicken broth, the sodium content will be higher.

ONE REASON IS to give meat the look, taste, texture, and aromas that develop when heat sets off certain chemical changes.

But another vital benefit is that heat destroys the bacteria that, if present in meat (here defined as beef, lamb, pork, game, poultry, and fish), can make you sick and may cause death. Even Escherichia coli, the culprit recently found in fast-food hamburgers, is killed by heat.

How do bacteria get on meat?

Our environment is teeming with bacteria--the vast majority of which are harmless. For the most part, we live with them without problems. Harmful bacteria come from animal and human wastes, infectious wounds, and the soil; they are transferred by contact. In moderate to large numbers, they can multiply to dangerous levels in a few hours--in or out of your body.

How can you make sure harmful bacteria aren't present?

Since bacteria are too tiny to see without a microscope, food-safe practices start with the assumption that harmful ones are present.

Proper handling and storage are the first steps toward controlling them. Use the "Keeping clean" section at far right as a guide. Next, you need to cook the meat for at least 4 minutes at 140|degrees~, the minimum temperature at which you can kill non-spore-forming bacteria, including the dangerous ones, Campylobacter, Escherichia coli, Salmonella, and Staphylococcus. It takes less time to kill them at higher temperatures. Even if food is heavily contaminated, heat will kill the bacteria.

Once bacteria are killed, food has to be recontaminated by contact with more bacteria before there is a problem. If food is recontaminated--for example, if cooked meat comes into contact with uncooked meat or its juices--more heat will kill new bacteria and the food will be safe to eat.

For any meat, the cook concerned about quality and safety will find an accurate food thermometer invaluable. The thermometer should register at least 212 |degrees~, and you should check its accuracy regularly by immersing the stem in boiling water. At sea level, the thermometer will read 212 |degrees~ at boiling.

Cuts of beef or lamb are often served rare. Is this dangerous?

Bacteria are on surfaces, not within the muscle and solid fat of meat, unless a gash permits entry. When a roast, steak, or chop is cooked to rare (about 135|degrees~) internally, it's hotter on the surface, and surface bacteria are destroyed. If you cook in a microwave oven, check meat temperature throughout.

Why is rare ground meat a greater risk?

When meat is ground, any surface bacteria present are distributed throughout.

What is a safe way to cook a hamburger patty?

The way to cook commercially ground meat is now under scrutiny. The USDA and FDA may soon recommend thoroughly cooking meat to an internal temperature of 155 |degrees~, even 160 |degrees~, as the fail-safe approach. Some fast-food restaurants already use 155 |degrees~ to compensate for variables involved in large-scale commercial cooking.

If you like meat less well done, cook it until it maintains 140 |degrees~ internally for 4 minutes. Use a thermometer to check thick patties, or use the following technique for ones 1/2 inch thick or less.

Cook patties on one side until they're well browned. Turn them over and cook until the other side is well browned and a few bubbles of juice break through the top surface; the meat may be slightly pink in the center.

But what if I want really rare beef or to eat beef or fish raw?

Eating raw meat is not recommended for young children, the elderly, pregnant women, or anyone with an immune system compromised by medication or disease because the risk of illness or death is greater. The USDA and FDA discourage consuming meat raw.

If you love raw or rare beef, you'll have the most quality control if you grind or cut your own; start with a solid chunk and use the cleanliness guidelines that follow. If you want to be certain that harmful bacteria are dead before starting, immerse the piece of meat in boiling water for 5 to 10 seconds.

For raw fish for sashimi, seviche, or gravlax, use fish that has been frozen at 0|degrees~ for at least a week.

Keeping clean

1. Wash hands after handling any raw meat and before touching other foods, especially those that aren't going to be cooked.

2. Always put raw meat on a clean surface (washed with detergent and water, then rinsed); use clean tools.

3. Avoid cross-contamination. Never let meat or its juices touch food that won't be cooked (such as salad greens) or put those foods on surfaces touched by meat or its juices. Wash cutting boards between uses for meats and other foods.

4. Keep foods in the refrigerator. If perishable moist foods are held at room temperature for 4 hours or more, bacteria can grow to numbers high enough to cause illness. Refrigerator temperatures permit only very slow growth of some types of bacteria. Freezing stops bacterial growth but doesn't destroy significant numbers. Growth of bacteria resumes when frozen or refrigerated foods reach room temperature.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Anusasananan, Linda Lau
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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