Survey finds people unsure of safe meat cooking temperatures

More than half of Northern Ireland’s home cooks are unclear about how to barbeque meat to the correct safe temperatures, according to recently released survey results.

Results revealed that 55 percent of participants didn’t know what temperature meat should be cooked to. Responses ranged from 30 degrees C to 260 degrees C (86 degrees F to 500 degrees F). About half of people surveyed at least occasionally overcooked meat to ensure it was safe to eat.

Research by safefood found fewer than 2 percent of 1,052 adults on the island of Ireland are following all necessary the food safety checks to ensure barbecued meat is cooked correctly. The survey was done from December 2019 to January 2020.

For the grilling season, safefood called on home cooks to use a meat thermometer to protect family and friends from food poisoning. Color is not a reliable indicator of safety and doneness.

The agency, which promotes food safety and nutrition in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, advised cooks to double check that burgers, chicken and sausages are cooked to 75 degrees C (167 degrees F) on the barbecue.

The campaign is being supported by the Association of Craft Butchers of Ireland who are displaying “Trust the Meat Thermometer” stickers in their meat counters in July.

Extra level of assurance
Gary Kearney, director of food science at safefood, said people should have and use a meat thermometer.

“Take your food off the heat, pop the thermometer in the thickest part of the meat and when it reaches 75 degrees Celsius, then it’s cooked and ready to eat. Using a meat thermometer adds that extra layer of reassurance,” he said.

Past research revealed that a quarter of cooks in Northern Ireland admit to having had a barbeque disaster, and one in 10 said guests ended up sick after eating meat that hadn’t been cooked properly.

People believe the home is the least likely place to get food poisoning, yet it’s where up to two thirds of foodborne illnesses originate, according to safefood.

Advice from the agency includes keeping perishable foods like salads and quiche in the fridge until serving; when handling raw meat and poultry, wash hands thoroughly and frequently and before preparing salads and other ready to eat foods; keep cooked and raw meat apart and use separate chopping boards, cooking utensils and plates; and allow leftover food to cool before refrigerating but make sure to refrigerate it within two hours of cooking and store for up to three days.

Low meat thermometer usage
Research found fewer than one in five people in Northern Ireland own a meat thermometer, and just one in six of them use it regularly. The study included a literature review and six focus groups with 65 participants in 2019.

Lynsey Hollywood, lead researcher and manager of the food and drink business development center at Ulster University, said: “What was interesting from the research was the low level of meat thermometer ownership and usage. We also found that people perceived meat thermometers as being only for professionals, troublesome to use and expensive to purchase.”

Michelin star chef Eric Matthews is also supporting the campaign.

“So much work goes into preparing for a BBQ with family and friends, so the last thing anyone wants is to undercook the food that is being served and risk making people sick. Using a meat thermometer takes all the guesswork out of it and means that you can get on with enjoying yourself.”

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)

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