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Mad cow disease, beef storage, safety and freshness - FAQ

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Store beef

How long can you freeze beef?
Published 03/26/2009 05:46 AM   |    Updated 03/05/2010 01:53 PM
How long can you freeze beef?
Frozen beef will be safe indefinitely. However, for best quality, use steaks and roasts within 9 to 12 months. For more information on freezing beef contact the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854.

How long can you store corned beef?
Published 03/26/2009 05:46 AM   |    Updated 06/16/2010 03:11 AM
How long can you store corned beef?
Uncooked corned beef in a pouch with pickling juices which has a sell-by date or no date may be stored 5 to 7 days in the refrigerator, unopened. Products with a use-by date can be stored unopened in the refrigerator until that date. Drained and well wrapped, an uncooked corned beef brisket may be frozen for one month for best quality. The flavor and texture will diminish with prolonged freezing but the product is still safe. After cooking, corned beef may be refrigerated for about 3 to 4 days and frozen for about 2 to 3 months.

What are suggested storage times for beef?
Published 03/26/2009 05:46 AM   |    Updated 06/16/2010 03:11 AM
What are suggested storage times for beef?
At home, immediately place beef in a refrigerator (40 °F or below). You can keep fresh beef roast, steaks, chops and ribs in the refrigerator for 3 or 4 days, or freeze (at 0 °F or below) for 3 to 6 months. Refrigerate fresh beef liver or variety meats for 1 to 2 days, or freeze 3 to 4 months. You can keep cooked beef in the refrigerator 3 to 4 days; cooked beef gravy, for 1 to 2 days, or freeze within that length of time. If kept frozen continuously, it will be safe indefinitely. Beef may be frozen in its original packaging or repackaged. If freezing longer than 2 months, over wrap the porous store plastic packages with airtight heavy-duty foil, plastic wrap or freezer paper, or place the package inside a freezer bag. 

To read about storage times for beef, see Beef... from Farm to Table.

Beef safety

Is iridescent roast beef or lunchmeat safe?
Published 03/26/2009 05:46 AM   |    Updated 02/17/2011 03:12 PM
Is iridescent roast beef or lunchmeat safe?
Sliced cooked beef or lunchmeat can have an iridescent color. Meat contains iron, fat, and many other compounds. When light hits a slice of meat, it splits into colors like a rainbow. There are also various pigments in meat compounds which can give it an iridescent or greenish cast when exposed to heat and processing. Iridescent beef isn't spoiled necessarily. Spoiled cooked beef would probably also be slimy or sticky and have an off-odor.


Beef freshness

Are additives allowed on fresh beef?
Published 03/26/2009 05:46 AM   |    Updated 03/05/2010 02:08 PM
Are additives allowed on fresh beef?
Additives are not allowed on fresh beef. If beef is processed, additives such as MSG, salt, or sodium erythorbate must be listed on the label.

In a package of fresh beef, is the red liquid blood?
Published 03/26/2009 05:46 AM   |    Updated 03/05/2010 01:59 PM
In a package of fresh beef, is the red liquid blood?
Blood is removed from beef during slaughter and only a small amount remains within the muscle tissue. Since beef is about 3/4 water, this natural moisture combined with protein is the source of the liquid in the package.

Is a rare steak safe to eat?
Published 03/26/2009 05:46 AM   |    Updated 05/24/2011 07:40 AM
Is a rare steak safe to eat?
USDA recommends not eating or tasting raw or undercooked meat or poultry. Meat and poultry may contain harmful bacteria. Thorough cooking is important to kill any bacteria and viruses that may be present in the food. Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145°F as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook meat to higher temperatures.  All poultry should reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer. Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to an internal temperature of 160°F as measured with a food thermometer.

Does the color of beef indicate freshness?
Published 03/26/2009 05:46 AM   |    Updated 03/05/2010 01:59 PM
Does the color of beef indicate freshness?
Beef muscle not exposed to oxygen (in vacuum packaging, for example) is a burgundy or purplish color. After exposure to the air for 15 minutes or so, the myoglobin receives oxygen and the meat turns bright, cherry red. After beef has been refrigerated about 5 days, it may turn brown. This darkening is due to oxidation, the chemical changes in myoglobin due to the oxygen content. This is a normal change during refrigerator storage. Beef that has turned brown during extended storage may be spoiled, have an off-odor, and be tacky to the touch and should not be used.

Mad cow disease

Are oxtails safe from BSE?
Published 03/26/2009 05:46 AM   |    Updated 03/05/2010 02:03 PM
Are oxtails safe from BSE?
The spinal cord, a part of the central nervous system of the beef animal affected by Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), does not extend into the tail. Oxtails are safe to cook.

Is it safe to eat cow brains?
Published 03/26/2009 05:46 AM   |    Updated 03/05/2010 02:03 PM
Is it safe to eat cow brains?
Brain, skull, eyes, trigeminal ganglia, spinal cord, vertebral column (excluding the vertebrae of the tail, the transverse processes of the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae, and the wings of the sacrum) and dorsal root ganglia of cattle 30 months of age and older are specified risk materials (SRMs). SRMs also include the tonsils and distal ileum of all cattle. However, to ensure that the distal ileum is removed, the entire small intestine shall be removed. These SRMs are prohibited for use in the human food supply.

Is it safe to eat meat because of mad cow?
Published 03/26/2009 05:46 AM   |    Updated 03/05/2010 02:03 PM
Is it safe to eat meat because of mad cow?
There are still a number of unknowns regarding the origin and transmission of BSE. Given these scientific uncertainties, we cannot assure zero risk from Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). However, we can and will continue to monitor new scientific findings and world events and adjust our regulations and policies to keep the risk of BSE infecting the national herd as low as possible.

What is the most current information on BSE?
Published 03/26/2009 05:46 AM   |    Updated 03/05/2010 02:03 PM
What is the most current information on BSE?
For the most updated information on Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), visit the Food Safety and Inspection Service's (FSIS') BSE Resources.

Where is BSE found in cattle?
Published 03/26/2009 05:46 AM   |    Updated 03/05/2010 02:03 PM
Where is BSE found in cattle?
Current scientific research confirms that Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) infectivity occurs in the brain, trigeminal ganglia, tonsils, spinal cord, dorsal root ganglion, and distal ileum of the small intestine of cattle experimentally infected with the BSE agent. Research also confirms that BSE infectivity is in the brain, spinal cord, and retina of the eyes of cattle infected with the agent under field conditions. Although bone marrow has demonstrated infectivity in experimentally infected cattle, these findings are not conclusive.

Will cooking kill the BSE agent?
Published 03/26/2009 05:46 AM   |    Updated 03/05/2010 02:03 PM
Will cooking kill the BSE agent?
Current scientific research indicates that cooking will not kill the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) agent. The BSE agent is smaller than most viral particles and is highly resistant to heat, ultraviolet light, ionizing radiation, and common disinfectants that normally inactivate viruses or bacteria; causes no detectable immune or inflammatory response in the host; and has not been observed microscopically.

Will irradiation kill the BSE agent?
Published 03/26/2009 05:46 AM   |    Updated 03/05/2010 02:03 PM
Will irradiation kill the BSE agent?
Current scientific research indicates that irradiation will not kill the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) agent.

What is the best way to handle beef?
Published 03/26/2009 05:47 AM   |    Updated 03/05/2010 01:55 PM
What is the best way to handle beef?
RAW BEEF. Select beef just before checking out at the supermarket register. Put packages of raw beef in disposable plastic bags (if available) to contain any leakage which could cross contaminate cooked foods or produce. Take beef home immediately and refrigerate at 40 °F or below; use within 3 to 4 days or freeze (0 °F). READY PREPARED BEEF. For fully cooked take-out beef dishes such as Chinese food or barbecued ribs, be sure they are hot at pick-up. Use cooked beef within two hours (one hour if air temperature is above 90 °F) or refrigerate at 40 °F or below in shallow, covered containers. Eat within 3 to 4 days, either cold or reheated to 165 °F (hot and steaming). It is safe to freeze ready prepared beef dishes. For best quality, use within 3 months.

Are milk and meat from bST-supplemented cows safe?
Published 03/26/2009 05:47 AM   |    Updated 12/27/2010 03:12 PM
Are milk and meat from bST-supplemented cows safe?
Yes. Extensive studies of the safety of bST have been conducted world-wide and reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA concluded that both milk and meat are safe. A separate review of the data has been conducted by the National Institute of Health, the World Health Organization, the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services, and reviews by the Journal of the American Medical Association, Pediatrics, and the Journal of the American Dietetic Association all independently have arrived at the same conclusion, milk and meat from bST supplemented cows are safe. In addition, regulatory agencies from countries around the world have reached the same conclusion, milk and meat from bST supplemented cows are safe. For more information, visit FDA's Web site.

Do cattle get BSE from feed?
Published 03/26/2009 05:46 AM   |    Updated 03/05/2010 02:03 PM
Do cattle get BSE from feed?
There is no evidence that the Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) disease is transmitted through direct contact or animal-to-animal spread. The primary means by which animals become infected is through consumption of feed contaminated with the infectious BSE agent. Regarding feeding practices, it is known that cattle can become infected with BSE by eating feed contaminated with the infectious BSE agent. This is why in 1997 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prohibited the use of most mammalian (for example, cattle) protein in the manufacture of animal feed intended for cattle and other ruminants. The ban was expanded on January 2004 to eliminate the present exemption in the feed rule that allows mammalian blood and blood products to be fed to other ruminants as a protein source. For additional information on the feed ban, visit FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine.

Can Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) be transmitted from one cow to another cow?
Published 03/26/2009 05:46 AM   |    Updated 03/05/2010 02:03 PM
Can Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)-be transmitted from one cow to another cow?
Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) is not a contagious disease. There is no evidence that the disease is transmitted through direct contact or animal-to-animal spread.

Should we test all cattle for mad cow disease?
Published 03/26/2009 05:46 AM   |    Updated 03/05/2010 02:03 PM
Should we test all cattle for mad cow disease?
Under the enhanced surveillance program, sampling 201,000 animals would allow USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to detect Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) at the rate of 1 positive in 10 million adult cattle at a 95 percent confidence level assuming that all of the positives are in the targeted high-risk population. See BSE Testing Information from the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)
http://www.aphis.usda.gov/newsroom/hot_issues/bse/surveillance/bse_disease_surv.shtml

What clinical signs a positive BSE cow shows?
Published 03/26/2009 05:46 AM   |    Updated 03/05/2010 02:03 PM
What clinical signs a positive BSE cow shows?
Cattle affected by Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)  experience progressive degeneration of the nervous system. Affected animals might display changes in temperament, such as nervousness or aggression, abnormal posture, incoordination and difficulty in rising, decreased milk production, or loss of body weight despite continued appetite.

What kind of testing does USDA do for BSE?
Published 03/26/2009 05:46 AM   |    Updated 03/05/2010 02:03 PM
What kind of testing does USDA do for BSE?
United State Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has undertaken an intensive animal health surveillance program for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE). USDA personnel collect samples from high-risk cattle and send the samples to an existing network of state and federal laboratories approved to conduct rapid-testing for BSE. If the sample is negative, no further testing will be conducted. If the sample is inconclusive, confirmatory testing will be conducted by APHIS's National Veterinary Service Laboratories (NVSL), the national BSE reference laboratory. More information on testing for BSE is available from the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

What's the best way to handle raw ground beef when you buy it?
Published 03/26/2009 05:46 AM   |    Updated 03/05/2010 01:59 PM
What's the best way to handle raw ground beef when you buy it?
At the store, choose a package that is not torn and feels cold. If possible, enclose it in a plastic bag so leaking juices won't drip on other foods. Make ground beef one of the last items to go into your shopping cart. Separate raw meat from ready-cooked items in your cart. Have the clerk bag raw meat, poultry, and fish separately from other items. Plan to drive directly home from the grocery store. You may want to take a cooler with ice for perishables.

Have SRMs been present in beef products produced before the BSE ban?
Published 03/26/2009 05:46 AM   |    Updated 03/05/2010 02:03 PM
Have SRMs been present in beef products produced before the BSE ban?
Brain and a portion of the small intestine could have been in products, but only if the product label indicated that these materials were present. Very few products contained these components. Tonsils have never been allowed in a meat product. Spinal cord tissue could only have been present in edible rendering.

Where has BSE been found?
Published 03/26/2009 05:46 AM   |    Updated 03/05/2010 02:03 PM
Where has BSE been found?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) for Animal Health, worldwide there have been more than 180,000 cases in animals since the disease was first diagnosed in 1986 in Great Britain. Most Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) cases have occurred in the United Kingdom. The disease has also been confirmed in native-born cattle in Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland and the United States. For more detailed information, visit the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

How do we find the origin of an animal that had inconclusive results for BSE?
Published 03/26/2009 05:46 AM   |    Updated 03/05/2010 02:03 PM
How do we find the origin of an animal that had inconclusive results for BSE?
Because of the possibility that inconclusive results could be confirmed as negative after further testing, information about such an animal and its origin is not disclosed until such time that a test comes back positive for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE). For the most updated information on BSE, visit the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, BSE Web page

from Ask Karen - answers from the U.S. government



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