“June 24, 2009 – Colorado Firm Recalls Beef Products Due To Possible Contamination,” read headlines. A few days earlier, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced that International Meat Co., Inc., a Chicago, IL, establishment had recalled approximately 6,152 pounds of ground beef products that may have been contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

E. coli, salmonella and listeria may be present in cattle and can contaminate meat when slaughtered. All three organisms, however, can be destroyed by thorough cooking though meat may be contaminated again by poor handling practices or poor sanitation. An educated consumer and meat producer can be the best shield against outbreaks of E. coli contamination.


Did You Know:

  • If beef has not been exposed to oxygen, such as when it is vacuum packed, it will have a burgundy color. Upon exposure to air for about 15 minutes, it should turn bright red. After 5 days of refrigeration, it may turn brown. Brown beef that has been stored for a long period of time may be spoiled.
  • Fresh beef cannot include additives. Processed beef may include additives such as MSG, salt or other additives, but these must be listed on the label.
  • In the store, raw beef should be selected as close to checking out as possible to minimize the time it is not refrigerated.
  • Raw meat and poultry should be refrigerated immediately after purchase, especially if temperatures exceed 90°F. Use within 3-5 days or freeze. When freezing for an extended time, it is best to overwrap the store package with aluminum foil or freezer wrap to avoid freezer burn. If freezer burn does occur, remove those sections before or after cooking.



Frozen beef should never be defrosted on the counter. Beef should be defrosted in the refrigerator, in cold water or in a microwave oven. When defrosting in the refrigerator, it may take a day or two, so plan ahead. Remember, beef will be safe in the refrigerator for 3-5 days after it defrosts and you can refreeze it without cooking it if you decide not to use it. If defrosting in cold water, make sure the beef is in airtight packaging or place it in a leak proof bag and submerge in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the beef is thawed. This may take 1-3 hours, depending on the cut and size. If defrosting in a microwave, it should be cooked immediately after defrosting. You should cook beef that has been defrosted by cold water or in the microwave before refreezing.



You can cook frozen beef in the oven or on a grill, but don’t cook it in a slow cooker. You should not refrigerate partially cooked beef. Finish cooking it before refrigerating it.

Wash hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw meat and poultry. Wash cutting boards, dishes and utensils with hot soapy water. Immediately clean spills.

Keep raw meat, fish and poultry away from other food that will not be cooked. Use separate cutting boards for raw meat, poultry and egg products and cooked foods.

Consumers should only eat ground beef or ground beef patties that have been cooked to a safe internal temperature of 160°F. Prepared beef should be hot when picked up and should be eaten within 2 hours. The sooner the better (but don’t get burned eating it while it is too hot). If it is not going to be eaten soon, it should be refrigerated and eaten within 3-4 days. It should be eaten cold or heated to 165°F.

Color is not a reliable indicator that ground beef or ground beef patties have been cooked to a temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria such as E. coli O157:H7. The only way to be sure ground beef is cooked to a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria is to use a thermometer to measure the internal temperature.