Cooking meat, poultry and seafood to a safe internal temperature kills many types of bacteria that can give you food poisoning, such as E. coli and salmonella. However, some types of bacteria that can make you sick are not killed by normal cooking temperatures. Cooking meat that has not been stored or prepared safely is dangerous to your health.
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Bacteria multiplies quickly at temperatures between 40 and 140 Fahrenheit. In this "danger zone" of temperature, bacteria populations can double in 20 minutes. Many forms of bacteria, such as Clostridium perfringens and Clostridium botulinum, produce heat-resistant spores as they multiply. Cooking meat doesn't destroy these spores, even if you boil the food. Clostridium perfringens causes diarrhea and abdominal pain. Clostridium botulinum -- which can be fatal or take months of recovery -- causes vomiting, diarrhea, blurred or double vision, respiratory muscle paralysis and difficulty swallowing.
Storing meat properly prevents dangerous bacterial growth. Keep meat frozen or refrigerated before and after cooking. Don't leave meat in your car while you run other errands, and keep raw meat in separate plastic bags to avoid contaminating other groceries. In addition, never defrost or marinate beef at room temperature or in hot water; defrosting and marinating in the refrigerator is safest, although you can also defrost meat in the microwave or in cold water.
Some bacteria may exist in meat that has been stored properly, so use a food thermometer to make sure cooked or reheated meat reaches a safe internal temperature. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, beef, lamb and veal roasts and steaks should reach 145 degrees Fahrenheit, while ground meat should reach 160 degrees. Cook poultry to at least 165 degrees and pork to 160 degrees. Clostridium perfringens grows best at temperatures between 110 to 120, so don't let meat cool too slowly after it is cooked. Place food in small containers and refrigerate immediately.
Food poisoning is more common than you may think. Many people may mistake food poisoning for the flu because symptoms can take hours, days or even weeks to develop, according to the USDA. About 76 million Americans get food poisoning every year, and it's not always just a day or two of stomach discomfort -- about 5,000 people die annually, too. Don't take chances with meat that may be spoiled or unsafe; it's not worth risking your health.