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Proper Handling Ensures Food Is Safe, Appetizing

May 10, 1999

This is the season of graduation parties and special dinners to honor mom and dad. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture warns that cooks need to be cautious when preparing meaty meals. Raw foods, such as lamb, ham and eggs, can be a source of bacteria. Thorough cooking destroys bacteria that could cause illness, officials say. Here are some tips:

* Raw eggs, meat and poultry should be thoroughly cooked to kill any pathogens. Once cooked, food may be maintained at 140 degrees or refrigerated at 40 degrees or below.

* Dry-cured hams keep one year on the shelf. Refrigerate country ham after slicing. Sliced country hams may be kept in the refrigerator for two to three months and, once cooked, for five to seven days. Fully cooked, ready-to-eat hams must be kept refrigerated. If desired, heat to 140 degrees before serving. Fresh (raw) hams must be kept refrigerated and cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Use a meat thermometer to be sure the proper internal temperature has been reached. Leftover ham slices will keep for up to five days in the refrigerator. Canned hams with "Keep Refrigerated" labels must be stored in the refrigerator and used within nine months.

* If raw lamb or beef is bought, take it home immediately from the store and use within five days. Otherwise, freeze it, but for best quality use within nine months. Lamb and beef roasts should be cooked to at least 145 degrees, in an oven set no lower than 325 degrees. Use a meat thermometer. Briskets require longer cooking for tenderness and flavor.

* Eggs should be cooked thoroughly. Hard-cooked eggs should not be kept out of the refrigerator for more than two hours. If the shells are cracked, bacteria could contaminate the eggs. Do not use them.

* All perishable foods should not stand at room temperature for more than two hours. Place leftovers in shallow containers and refrigerate for use within four days, or freeze.

* For more information, call the USDA's toll-free meat and poultry hotline at (800) 535-4555, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. EST, year-round. An extensive selection of timely food safety recordings can also be heard 24 hours a day using a touch-tone telephone.

* Information and publications can also be accessed and downloaded from the USDA's home page at Additional information is available via fax by calling (202) 690-3754 or -3755, or (800) 238-8281.

Source: USDA

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