Safe meat fulfills an important role in our daily diets by providing many essential nutrients to the body. Unsafe meat with a high bacterial count on the other hand is a major health hazard and should be avoided. Bacteria responsible for food-borne disease cannot be seen, smelled or tasted and are known as pathogens.
Where Can You Buy Safe Meat?
Buy your meat at a shop accepted by the health authority of your town or village. This meat is safe because it comes from an approved abattoir which sells safe meat. The shop can be a butchery, supermarket or a spaza. The carcasses in these shops have a stamp on each quarter, which means that the meat is clean, safe, without disease and will stay fresh much longer. The stamps are given by meat inspectors at the approved abattoir who are qualified to declare meat as safe.
When Is Meat Unsafe?
Uninspected meat of animals killed in unacceptable places or in the open may be unsafe. Animals can get ill just like people. Animals can get brucellosis or tuberculosis (TB) or may carry tapeworms. If you eat the meat of such an infected animal which is ill you can become ill too. If meat is handled with dirty hands or instruments or in a dirty place it will be contaminated by the bacteria and pathogens in these dirty environments. If you eat this meat, the pathogens may make you ill.
Meat From Approved Abattoirs Is Safe
Animals which arrive at approved abattoirs are examined by vets. The vets make sure the animals are healthy. No animal which is ill is slaughtered. If an animal is tired after a long journey, it is given time to rest before it is slaughtered. Animals are killed in such a way that they do not suffer pain. They are killed in such a way that they bleed properly and very little blood is left in the meat. Meat with little blood stays fresher longer. Directly after the animal has been killed and bled, the skin and intestines are removed. Next the carcass and offal are inspected by a meat inspector. The inspector makes sure that the meat is healthy and safe. If it is healthy and safe, he gives it a stamp. Unsafe meat is destroyed.
The inspectors and vets also make sure that everything at the abattoir is clean.
The meat is put in a refrigerator to make sure that any pathogen numbers which may be present on the meat, do not increase. The meat is also kept cool on the way to the shop to keep it fresh.
Meat From Other Places May Be Unsafe
Animals killed at places other than approved abattoirs are not examined by vets. These are called informal slaughterings. Animals killed there may be ill. With informal slaughterings there is no place where the animal can rest. Tired animals do not bleed well. Meat with too much blood in it does not stay fresh long. Informal slaughterers do not have proper equipment. They can not keep everything clean. The carcasses are not examined by inspectors. You can not be sure that the meat is safe. Informal slaughterers cannot keep the meat cool and pathogens will then grow on it. If you eat such meat you may become ill.
What You Can Do If You Cannot Buy Safe Meat Near Your Home?
Ask the leaders or health authorities of your village to get safe meat from villages or towns nearby. If enough people want safe meat, butchers will deliver in a truck with a built-in refrigerator. Ask the informal traders to get advice from health authorities so that they too can be empowered to sell safe meat.
Is Safe Meat Really So Important?
If you bring unsafe meat into your home, the pathogens may spread to your hands, tables, knives and other places. From there they may spread to other food. Cooking the meat may well kill the pathogens, but not the poison some of them may leave in the meat. The poison may make you ill.
Tips For Handling And Preparing Meat
Never leave meat at room temperature for more than 2 hours, including preparation and serving time.
Especially avoid the temperature zone of 10 to 60ºC where bacteria multiply rapidly.
Cool leftover meat immediately and thoroughly and then cover it. Shallow containers will speed up the cooling process.
When reheating leftovers, heat thoroughly (up to the bone). Cooked meat should only be reheated once.
Avoid cross contamination from dirty hands, cutting surfaces, knives, containers, other food and dish cloths.
We would like to thank the National Department of Agriculture and the Directorate – Veterinary Public Health for permission to use the information from their bulletin “Safe Meat”.
Reviewed for F.A.C.S. by AHu (2023)