Bacteria and Meat Safety
How long do you need to boil meat before it is safe to meat?
How much bacteria is safe to eat on meat?
The rule is that meat should be heated through and
through to be safe for consumption. Thus, even the
inside should be heated and should not be raw. How
long this is depends on the type and size of the meat.
How many bacteria are safe to eat depends on what kind
of bacteria. Those that can not cause disease, and
fortunately most bacteria are what we call 'not
pathogenic', we can eat by the millions without doing
harm. Those that cause disease need to enter our body
in sufficient amounts to make us ill. That can vary
from as few as 5-50 organisms (that is really a tiny
amount) to thousands to 100-thousands, as for
Salmonella. That seems a lot, but bacteria can grow so
fast that they reach these numbers easily on food.
Since bacteria grow slower at lower temperatures, the
fridge slows down this bacterial growth, but does not
completely stop it. Our meat remains fresh longer, but
In conclusion, we only get sick when we eat sufficient
numbers of the wrong kind of bacteria (pathogens). On
top of that, our health condition and immune system
further influence if, and how bad, we will be ill.
Eating dead bacteria is usually not harmful, even if
these bacteria were pathogenic by life. That is why
cooking meat containing pathogenic bacteria results
in safe food. There is one exception: bacteria that
produce toxins. Those toxins will not be inactivated
by heating. That is why you cannot make spoiled food
safe to eat by heating it.
It is not how much bacteria is on the meat-it is what kind. There are
bacteria, esp. E coli O157:H7 and Salmonella. Only a few bacteria can make
you sick. To prevent illness the meat must be cooked to 160 degrees F.
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Update: June 2012