Although we cannot see it with the naked eye, meat is a food that contains a very high load of microorganisms. Therefore, care must be taken during preparation and storage, in order to reduce the risk of contamination and the typical symptoms of intoxication, such as diarrhea, headache, nausea, vomiting and malaise.
“A possible increase in the microbial load, if the handling is not done correctly, can lead to a deterioration process, that is, the meat spoils more easily, since it is an extremely perishable food”, warns Hugo Rangel Fernandes, professor of nutrition at Faculdade Uninassau (PA), specialist in food quality and safety and doctoral student in food science at UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro).
The biggest risks that red meat can bring to health, according to experts, are related precisely to the contamination of bacteria, such as salmonella and Clostridium botulinum, responsible for the development of diseases. “Depending on the quantity and type of microorganisms, the person can have neurological problems and even die”, reports the nutrition professor at Uninassau.
Next, see precautions to avoid contamination risks during the preparation and storage of these foods.
Do not thaw meat at room temperature.
This is a very common mistake, whether in a hurry to speed up the preparation, or simply out of habit. However, when defrosting meat at room temperature, a favorable area is created for the proliferation of microorganisms, in addition to causing loss of flavor and nutrients, that is, product quality.
The correct way to defrost food is at refrigeration temperature, that is, take it out of the freezer and take it to the fridge, so that the process takes place gradually. Typically, it will be ready to prepare after 8 to 12 hours in this condition.
Do not defrost in the microwave
This is another way of wrong defrosting. “In this case, the error is precisely due to sensory characteristics, such as changes in flavor, texture, color and tenderness of the meat. So, this type of thawing can compromise the characteristics that we, as consumers, appreciate”, says Fernandes.
However, it is worth noting that defrosting meat in the microwave does not increase the risk of contamination.
Avoid washing the meat
The water that comes out of the tap also has microorganisms that can add to the natural load that the meat already has, accelerate the deterioration process and put health at risk.
To remove any residue or even clean the meat, the recommendation is to use suitable utensils, such as a clean knife. Meat should not be washed with tap water or hot water, with the intention of killing bacteria. “Furthermore, pouring hot water to defrost is in the same situation as the microwave, causing the same problems”, explains Fernandes.
The expert points out that the idea of washing meat with hot water to get rid of bacteria is also not valid because the natural cooking process (cooking, roasting or frying) already has this function. And during this preparation, many of them are eliminated.
Do not use the same cutting board (board) for meat and vegetables
The right thing is to have an individual cutting board, because, as mentioned earlier, meat contains many microorganisms, and when we use a utensil to prepare it and reuse it for other foods, there can be what experts call cross-contamination — when passes the microbial load from one food to another.
The problem with this cross-contamination is that, in the case of vegetables, for example, not all of them go through a cooking process, many are consumed in natura. “With the meat cooking process you can kill some of these microorganisms, but in the case of vegetables, no”, says Fernandes. “And then you can have health problems like infection or poisoning,” he adds.
Gillian Alonso, nutritionist and doctor in public health from USP (University of São Paulo), adds that the ideal is to have an individual cutting board, but if that is not possible, the essential tip is to always wash the utensil with plenty of soap and water. before reusing it. The recommendation extends to knives and any other meat handling objects.
Freeze smaller pieces
Some people defrost a large piece of meat, but only use part of it, and the rest goes back to the freezer.
“Firstly, it is wrong because the procedure of thawing and refreezing will cause the meat to lose a lot of liquid and, consequently, have a change in juiciness, texture and flavor. In addition, and more seriously, it can increase the risk of contamination due to multiplication of microorganisms”, emphasizes Carla Brasil, nutritionist, doctor in food science and technology from UFSM (Federal University of Santa Maria) and professor of the Nutrition course at the same university.
Therefore, when storing meat in the freezer, it is best to divide it into smaller and separate portions, because the larger the piece of meat, the longer the freezing process will take inside the food. Storing in pots or bowls without a lid is also wrong, as it changes the texture of the meat and can leave it smelling.
Don’t leave the barbecue meat exposed.
Not all barbecue people eat meat right after it comes off the grill or skewer. Often the food is exposed in an open container or even on top of the cutting board.
“The meat being exposed at room temperature even after roasting is at risk of contamination, because it loses temperature and forms favorable conditions for microorganisms to contaminate this food”, explains Fernandes.
Store ready-to-eat meat in the fridge, not the oven.
If meat is left over after a meal, you should not store it in the oven, microwave, or any other unrefrigerated container for later consumption. “After consuming, you must store it in the refrigerator. In fact, for any and all perishable food, the recommendation is that it remain at room temperature for a maximum of 30 minutes”, teaches the UFSM professor.
Meat in the fridge has an expiration date
Another common mistake is to leave the meat in the fridge for several days, as the refrigeration temperature does not maintain its integrity, this causes it to spoil quickly. “If you are not going to use it within three days, it is recommended to store it in the freezer, which is normally at an average temperature of -18ºC”, says Brasil, a professor at UFSM.
This does not depend on the type of cut, but in the case of ground beef, care must be taken. “She goes through a much greater manipulation process”, says Fernandes. “If the grinder is not properly sanitized, the risk of contamination increases”, he adds.
In addition, the specialist in food quality and safety warns that the human body itself can contaminate meat during handling. “Our body has microorganisms that are part of our microbiota, so when we handle meat the wrong way, it is possible that we are the vehicle of contamination,” he says.
Finally, the nutritionist and professor at UFSM points out that these precautions apply to all types of meat and cuts, not just red meats. “Meat, in general, milk and eggs are protein foods and can be easily contaminated by bacteria”, emphasizes the specialist.
“Fish and chicken meat often have a much shorter shelf life than beef because of the characteristics of their muscle fiber, but the recommendations apply to any and all meat”, says Brasil.