There is no doubt that meat is a big part of the Paleo diet. You’re encouraged to look beyond the cellophane wrapped chicken legs and pork chops at the grocery store to things like wild game and organ meats. In fact most on the Paleo diet are fairly choosy consumers especially with meat, since grass fed is preferred, and most opt to buy from local farmers instead of big box stores.
Grass fed meat can be pricey and wild meat will probably have to be ordered online if you don’t have a local store that carries it. One of the ways to save a few dollars is to order a larger amount at a time, but then you have to consider storage and there is a right and wrong way to store meat. Improperly stored meat can lead to spoilage, and while wasting food and money is bad enough, food poisoning is much worse. Safe handling and storage is important and will keep you healthy, so let’s look at how to safely handle and store meats because they can’t be all treated the same.
Handling Raw Meat
Whether you are cutting meat to cook or repackaging it to freeze, always handle your meat with clean and dry hands. Make sure to use separate cutting boards from what you use to cut vegetables, particularly if they are not being cooked together since bacteria can spread easily over surfaces.
Wash your hands often. If you are packaging different meats for freezing and you have just finished cutting pork, make sure you once again have clean dry hands before you move onto cutting chicken. Clean and dry all surface areas in between as well.
Fridge and Freezer
Always try and cook your meat as soon as possible, and use it the same day if you can. If you can’t, bear in mind that uncooked poultry, seafood, and any ground meats only last in the fridge for 1-2 days. Steaks and chops will last a little longer, about 3 days, cooked meat, poultry or seafood will also last about 3 days in the fridge. So if you have leftover turkey from the holidays you have three days to turn it into soup or stew.
Freezing is the best way to make your meat last the longest if you buy in bulk. There are a couple of rules of thumb when freezing meat. Keep meat in airtight packaging whether it be a Ziploc baggie or a plastic container because you don’t want air getting in and your meat becoming freezer burnt. Contrary to popular belief, things don’t last forever just because they are frozen, so your meats will still have an expiration date.
Ground meats have the shortest life span and need to be used within 3-4 months, seafood will last up to six months and poultry along with steaks and chops needs to be cooked within a year. Make sure that before you put your meat in the freezer to store you mark the dates so there is no guessing how long it has been in the freezer.
Cooking and Temperatures
How you cook meat affects both flavor and safety. A quick example is meat should always be put into a hot pan as this kills any surface bacteria and seals in flavors. You need get your hands on a good meat thermometer to make sure you have the internal temperatures just right. While some meats like beef can be eaten anywhere from very rare to well done, chicken must always be cooked thoroughly.
Meat should have an internal temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit on the low side for things like rare roast beef or steak, all the way to 165F for poultry and meat that is well done. You can find guides online for the right temperature for whatever you’re cooking. This takes a lot of the guesswork out and makes sure you get the perfect dish.