Handling Lamb Safely

Improper handling of raw lamb can set the stage for cross-contamination — the spread of bacteria from foods, hands, utensils and food preparation surfaces to another food. Here's how to stop it.
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At the Store

The key to safe and delicious lamb is buying it fresh (or frozen-fresh), free of preservatives and additives, then getting it home quickly.

  • Buy your lamb last. If your trip home takes longer than 30 minutes, bring a cooler to keep the meat cool.
  • Separate raw meat from ready-to-eat foods in your shopping cart. Consider placing raw foods inside plastic bags in your shopping cart to keep the juices contained.

When You Get Home

  • Wash hands thoroughly with warm water and soap before and after handling raw lamb.
  • Sanitize kitchen countertops that come into contact with raw lamb. One teaspoon of liquid chlorine bleach per quart of clean water will sanitize surfaces. Leave the solution on the surface for about 10 minutes to be effective.
  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, and utensils with soap and hot water after contact with raw lamb.
  • Refrigerate or freeze your lamb as soon as possible after purchasing. Prevent raw lamb juices from dripping onto other foods by placing raw foods in sealed containers or sealable plastic bags.
  • Fresh, raw lamb can be stored in its original wrap in the coldest part of the refrigerator (40°F or below). Ground lamb or stew meat should be cooked within 2 days, chops and roast within 3-5 days.
  • Freeze lamb immediately if you don’t plan to cook it soon after purchase.  Be sure to wrap the original packaging with airtight freezer wrap or place it in an airtight freezer bag to prevent freezer burn. Label each package with the date, name of cut and weight or number of servings. Practice the FIFO inventory system: first in, first out. To maintain optimum quality, frozen lamb should be used within 3-4 months.

Defrosting Lamb

  • In the refrigerator: Thawed lamb roasts and chops should be used within 3-5 days, ground lamb or stew meat within 1-2 days. If you don’t cook the lamb within this time period, you can refreeze it without cooking it first.
  • In cold water: Leave frozen lamb in its packaging, making sure it’s airtight. If not, transfer it to a leak-proof bag. Keep the lamb submerged in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes to continue thawing. Cook lamb immediately after thawing. It should not be refrozen unless cooked first. 
  • In the microwave: Frozen lamb thawed in the microwave must be cooked immediately. It should not be refrozen unless cooked first.

Before You Cook: S-E-P-A-R-A-T-E

  • Rinse lamb and pat dry with paper towels before cooking; cutting boards and knives must be washed in hot soapy water after using and hands must be washed before and after handling.
  • If possible, use one cutting board for raw lamb and another for fresh fruits and vegetables. If two cutting boards aren't available, prepare fruits and vegetables first, and put them safely out of the way. Wash the cutting board thoroughly with soap and hot water. Then, prepare the raw lamb. Follow by washing the cutting board again.
  • Place cooked food on a clean plate for serving. If cooked food is placed on an unwashed plate that previously held raw meat, bacteria from the raw food could contaminate the cooked food.
  • Cook ground lamb to a safe minimum internal temperature of 160oF as measured on a food thermometer. Other cuts, including roasts and chops, should be cooked to at least 145oF (medium-rare). Never cook lamb partially and then store it to be finished later, since this promotes bacterial growth.

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Sources:
National Lamb Board
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