Undercooked or Overcooked?

One of the food groups which can lead to food poisoning when consumed raw is meat and meat products. There are two main reasons why the inherent pathogens (illness causing factors) lead to poisoning during the cutting and processing of meat and meat products. In a compilation researched and prepared in Europe in the year 2016, one reason was “undercooked meats” which posed a health risk of 30-60%, especially in pregnancy. The second reason was “cross contamination” which is an infection by a number of food sources.

Research shows that consuming undercooked or raw meats is highly risky for human health, especially for pregnant women. Illness causing bacteria and parasites are regularly found in raw meat and chicken. Plus, harmful microorganisms on the surface of the meat can spread throughout it and are difficult to prevent when meat is minced. As a result of consuming these organisms, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting and serious parasite infections can possibly occur. Also, some bacteria can lead to kidney damage and death in small children, elderly and immunodeficient individuals. For this reason, to completely kill the harmful bacteria and parasites, the cooking heat must be sufficient. Under the USDA and FDA guidelines, the core temperature must reach a minimum of 71°C for meat and meat mixed foods, a minimum of 62.78°C must be held for 3 minutes for steak and uncut meat and 73.89°C for poultry products. These readings can be taken using a thermometer.

Another food related concern is “cross contamination” through poor hygiene conditions. This results in the harmful organisms in meat spreading to hands and kitchen utensils and then to fruit and vegetables, which are consumed unheated. However well the meat has been cooked, cross contamination can spread organisms in meat to salads or unheated foods. To prevent cross contamination; vital practices such as separating plates, chopping boards, knives and kitchen utensils for cooked and raw foods or washing the utensils before handling other types of foods, not washing raw meat and washing hands right after handling meat can be utilised. In short, raw meat and poor hygiene conditions can spread harmful organisms which can result in food poisoning for the consumer. Raw meats can cause food poisoning and result in serious infections and illnesses. However, cooking meat with sufficient heat and preventing cross contamination to other foods can prevent food poisoning.

Image: shutterstock.com [Natalia Lisovskaya]