Safe Handling

Temperature and the Cold Chain

Meat, meat by-products, and meat food products must by transported in an enclosed vehicle in such a manner to assure delivery and wholesomeness of those products while maintaining product integrity.

Products must be transported and stored at 0۫ F or below if frozen, or 41۫ F or colder if refrigerated. The product must be transported to and maintained at these temperatures for all sales and re-sales. Frozen products must remain frozen and no meat and meat products must rise above 40 º F unless the product is temperature insensitive because it is manufactured, processed, or packaged in such a way to prevent adulteration or unwholesomeness.

There are special thresholds for jerky and other shelf stable type products. For example, jerky with a moisture level less than .91 is for the most part (though not entirely) temperature insensitive. A moisture level below .85 required to render the product totally temperature insensitive, providing it is packaged in airtight packaging. Jerky that is not air-tight packaged must have a moisture level below .80

For more information on jerky please refer to that section.

Transporting Products

This can be accomplished by either a freezer or an ice chest/cooler. While a freezer is generally preferred, a heavy-duty ice chest/cooler may also be used, provided sufficient ice is available to maintain safe product temperatures. Styrofoam coolers are not approved. All units holding frozen or refrigerated product should contain a thermometer in order to monitor the temperature of the product at all times.

If an ice chest is used, the meat must be covered in the ice. Provisions must be made to drain away melted ice from the product. The meat should NEVER be sitting or floating in melted ice water. Additionally, vendors should ensure that juices from one species (i.e., chicken) do not drip onto and contaminate another species (beef). Storing product in dedicated species-specific coolers or freezers reduces the risk of cross-contamination from one species to another.


Inspected meat must be kept separate from non-inspected meat. It must either be stored in a separate freezer/cooler from non-inspected meat or stored in a separate area of the freezer/cooler to minimize any risk of contamination. For example, if stored in an upright freezer, inspected meat should be stored on the top shelves to avoid any leakage from non-inspected meat.

Expiration Dates

Except for “use-by” dates, product dates do not always refer to home storage and use after purchase. However, even if the date expires during home storage, a product should be safe, wholesome and of good quality — if handled properly and kept at 40° F or below. See the accompanying refrigerator charts for storage times of dated products.

  • Purchase the product before the date expires.
  • If perishable, take the food home immediately after purchase and refrigerate it promptly. Freeze it if the product cannot be used within times recommended on chart.
  • Once a perishable product is frozen, it does not matter if the date expires because foods kept frozen continuously are safe indefinitely.
  • Follow handling recommendations on product.
  • Consult the following storage chart.

Safe Handling

There are four components to safe food handling.

The first relates to cleanliness. Hands must be cleaned with warm water and soap. Wash cutting boards, dishes, countertops, and utensils with hot soapy water. The work area must also be kept clean.

Second, do not cross contaminate. Keep raw meat away from prepared products. Do not place cooked food on a plate or dish that previously held raw meat, poultry or eggs unless it was washed with hot, soapy water.

Third, keep products at their safe temperatures. This means keeping perishable food refrigerated. It also means cooking food to their proper degree of doneness. Food is safely cooked when it reaches a high enough internal temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that cause food-borne illness. (For whole muscle red meat, the internal temperature should rise to 145ºF, 160ºF for ground meats, and 165ºF for poultry.) Use a food thermometer to measure the internal temperature of cooked foods at the thickest point. Sauces, gravies, and even leftovers should be reheated to 165ºF. If using a microwave for reheating, the food should be stirred to make sure there are no cold spots.

Finally, food should be refrigerated promptly. Meat should be frozen or refrigerated as soon as possible; this means on immediate return from shopping. Never let meat sit out longer than two hours at room temperature (one hour if the outside temperature if over 90ºF). Food should be defrosted in the refrigerator and not on the countertop. Other defrosting methods, neither of which work well for meat, include submersion in water or use of the microwave. Foods that are marinating should be kept under refrigeration. It is important that the refrigerator temperature be checked regularly. The optimal refrigeration temperature is 40ºF. There should be plenty of space for the cool air to circulate within the appliance. Do not over-stuff the refrigerator!

A pictoral guide to thermometer placement and reading can be found at:


Foods can develop an off odor, flavor, or appearance due to spoilage bacteria. If a food has developed such characteristics, it should not be used for quality reasons. If foods are mishandled, however, food borne bacteria can grow and cause food borne illness — before or after the date on the package. For example, if hot dogs are taken to a market and left out several hours, they would not be safe if used thereafter, even if the date has not expired.

Other examples of potential mishandling are products that have been defrosted at room temperature more than two hours; cross-contaminated; or handled by people who do not use proper sanitary practices. Make sure to follow the handling and preparation instructions on the label to ensure top quality and safety.

Sampling and Slicing

In New York, the sampling and slicing of meat by-products and meat food products is at the discretion of County Health Department. Some departments require a food certification to carry out slicing of product for sampling. Some will require the product be sliced in a licensed commercial kitchen, while others will require the product to be sliced on site. Product that will be sampled must be USDA inspected, prepared under 5-A inspection, or be prepared in a state licensed commercial kitchen (a 20-C facility).

Leave a Reply



You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>