Cooking meat safely

Beef steak on a chopping board

Cooking meat properly is important to kill the bacteria that can cause food poisoning.

How to defrost meat safely

  • Defrost meat in the fridge, not at room temperature.
  • Allow 24 hours to defrost each 2.5kg/5lbs of meat or chicken.
  • Put the meat on a plate and place it on the bottom shelf of the fridge.
  • When meat thaws, a lot of liquid can come out. This liquid can spread bacteria to any food, plates or surfaces that it touches. Keep the meat covered so that it can’t touch or drip onto other foods.
  • Cook the raw meat within 24 hours of defrosting it.
  • Only defrost meat in the microwave if you are going to cook and eat it straight away. 

How to prepare your chicken safely

All raw meats can carry harmful bacteria

  • Whole cuts of meat, like a beef steak or joint, carry bacteria just on the outside of the meat. 
  • Other meats, such as pork and poultry, can have bacteria all the way through the meat.
  • When a whole cut of meat is minced or skewered, this moves any bacteria all the way through the meat.

Which meats can be eaten rare?

You can eat meats that have bacteria only on the outside “rare” or pink. These are:

  • Beef steaks
  • Whole joints of beef
  • Lamb chops
  • Whole joints of lamb

How to cook whole cuts of meat

  • Use a high temperature to seal the meat and kill any bacteria that might be on the outside. 
  • You’ll know the meat has been properly sealed when all of the outside has changed colour.
  • Vulnerable people, including elderly people, babies and toddlers, pregnant women and people who are unwell, should avoid eating lamb or beef that is “rare” or pink.

Which meats should be cooked all the way through?

It’s essential to cook any meat or fish that has been minced or skewered all the way through. These include:

  • Rolled joints
  • Burgers
  • Sausages
  • Chicken nuggets
  • Kebabs
  • Kidneys, liver and other types of offal

Poultry (including turkey, chicken, duck and goose) and pork also need to be cooked all the way through as these can have bacteria all the way through the meat. 


How should I cook these meats?

  • How hot the oven should be will depend on the cut of the meat.
  • How long you should cook it for will also depend on the cut, and how you want to cook it.
  • The temperature should be hot enough to cook the meat but not so hot that the outside will burn before the inside has had a chance to cook.
  • If you are cooking small pieces of meat such as sausages, move them around and turn them regularly so that each piece cooks evenly.
  • Use separate utensils for raw or partially cooked meat and cooked meat.
  • When roasting poultry, pork joints and rolled joints use the following times and temperatures as a guide.
Meat (roasting) Time and weight Temperature
Whole Chicken  20 mins per 450g / lb plus 20 extra mins 180°C/350°F/Gas 4 or 5
Pork Joint   35 mins per 450g / lb plus 35 extra mins 180°C/350°F/Gas 4 or 5 
Rolled Joint (any meat) 35 mins per 450g / lb plus 35 extra mins 180°C/350°F/Gas 4 or 5

How do I check these meats are properly cooked?

  • When you pierce the thickest part of the meat with a fork or skewer, the juices should run clear. For a whole chicken or other bird, the thickest part is the leg between the drumstick and the breast.
  • Cut the meat open with a clean knife to check it is piping hot all the way through – it should be steaming.
  • Meat changes colour when it is cooked. Make sure there is no pink meat left.
  • If you're cooking a very large dish, such as a casserole, check it in a few places, because some parts of the dish may be less hot than others.