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How to Tell When Meat is "Off"

7/30/2013 4:08:00 PM

Tags: food contamination, gourmet butcher, Cole Ward, Vermont

chicken wingsHow can you tell when meat is going “off”? It’ll start losing its color. Red meat will start turning brown. It'll have a sour smell. If it’s really bad, it’ll get a glossy golden-colored film on it. Pork tends to turn more towards the green side (ick). It’ll get grayish first, then have a really rancid smell. Chicken will get a sheen. Starting to feel queasy?

Chicken - in fact, all poultry, like turkeys and the ilk – very often carries salmonella and must be carefully handled. We had a saying in olde-time butcherdom: “You gotta watch out for Sam and Ella” (Yes, it’s lame, but times were simply then and our jokes were dumber.) So whenever I work with raw poultry, I sanitize everything it touches - surfaces, faucets, and so on.

I always cook poultry the day I buy it - I don’t store it in the refrigerator (even overnight). I always wash chicken in cold water, because using warm water will tend to activate any bacteria on the bird, and may even start the cooking process.

Poultry’s tendency to carry bacteria is one reason that responsible butchers don’t cut chicken on the same bench where other meats are cut (unless the bench has been thoroughly sanitized between meats). If you cut beef on a surface where raw chicken has been, that beef could end up contaminated with bacteria. And if that beef were then cooked only to “rare,” some bacteria (such as salmonella) might survive the cooking process, and you could end up with stomach upset, diarrhea ... you get the picture.

So sanitization is extremely important, and today, any good butcher will understand this. Wasn't always so - I’ve heard older butchers say, “I wonder how many people we made sick in the old day,” when it was common to cut chicken on the same bench as meat.

Cole Ward (AKA “The Gourmet Butcher”) is a teaching butcher who lives in Vermont. His 2-DVD butchery course is available online at www.thegourmetbutcher.com and his book “The Gourmet Butcher’s Guide to Meat” will be released by Chelsea Green Publishing in late 2013, and is available for pre-order here.

Photo by Fotolia/Cristi Lucaci



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