Meat Handling, Storage and Preparation Guidelines:

Many local health departments only allow hotdog vendors to serve certain pre-cooked meat products in the form of wieners or sausages that are to be barbequed and/or grilled on the cart. They may not allow what are considered to be hazardous raw meats (such as beef, ground beef, pork, and poultry) to be cooked on the cart.

Cooked meat must be continuously held above the temperatures specified by the health department. This required holding temperature also varies from place to place. The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), for instance, recommends a holding temperature of 140°F or above. This also requires the hotdog vendor cart to have a thermometer on hand to monitor this temperature.

Refrigerated meats must be stored below the specified cold temperature. The IDPH specifies that potentially hazardous foods such as meats be kept stored at or below 41°F (4°C). This will require the cart vendor to have another thermometer on hand to monitor this temperature. The temperature in the refrigerator or ice box should also be checked by the cart operator at regular intervals throughout the day. Every 2 hours would be a good idea. Care should be taken to ensure that refrigerator doors or ice box covers are not left open resulting in the interior temperature rising above this specified cold storage level. Check food temperatures when you receive them from a supplier and reject any that fall outside of the accepted ranges. Then put all such perishable foods away promptly in appropriate storage units.

Fresh meats and pre-cooked meats must be cooled to the refrigerated storage temperature within a certain prescribed time after they have been prepared. For example, the IDPH dictates that cooked meat must be cooled to 70°F (21°C) within 2 hours and cooled to 41°F (4°C) within another 4 hours (6 hours total). Fresh meats must be cooled from room temperature to 41°F (4°C) within 4 hours.

Following the above rules keeps the product fresh and prevents the growth of bacteria. To summarize, a health department typically will require hot foods such as sausages to be held above 140°F (60°C) and cold perishable items to be stored below 41°F (4°C). The danger zone for bacterial growth and food spoilage is between 41°F (4°C) and 140°F (60°C).

Health departments will require that you first heat certain foods to certain temperatures before allowing you to serve them to people.

Pre-cooked hotdogs for example, must be re-heated to at least 165°F (74°C) before serving. To accurately determine this temperature insert the thermometer lengthwise into the center of the hotdog. Be sure not to pass through the meat and touch the cooking surface as this will give you a false high temperature reading. Never rely on equipment thermostats to accurately achieve set temperatures. You must always measure food temperature with a thermometer.

Previously uncooked meats must be cooked to the following internal temperatures according to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH):

  • Chicken = 180°F (82°C)
  • Beef – Medium = 160°F (71°C)
  • Beef – Well Done = 170°F (77°C)
  • Ground Beef = 160°F (71°C)
  • Pork = 170°F (77°C)

The above internal temperatures must be reached and also maintained for a certain minimum amount of time to facilitate complete cooking before serving. For example, the IDPH recommends that beef, fish, poultry or pork in the form of steaks, chops or intact pieces must reach the required temperature for a minimum of 15 seconds. Once these initial cooking temperatures have been reached for the specified times, the meat can now be put in a holding area and held there above the specified temperature (140°F or 60°C) until served to customers.

During preparation and cooking you must take great care to avoid cross contamination between meats and any other food items. Be especially careful when handling raw, fresh or frozen meats. Meat carries potentially hazardous bacteria that can make you and your customers very sick and even kill. The area used for preparing meats must be washed and sanitized before being used to prepare any other food items! For example, if using a cutting board to separate frozen meat pieces, that board must be washed and sanitized before using it to chop onions. Similarly any utensils used would have to be washed and sanitized after coming into contact with meat. A sanitizing solution may be made by adding 1 teaspoon (5mL) of chlorine bleach to 1 quart (1L) of water.

Do not place cooked meats back on the plate or surface used to prepare or transport the uncooked (raw, fresh or frozen) meat. For example, if you used a tray to bring frozen sausages from the ice box to the grill for cooking, you must not put the cooked sausages back onto that same tray. It has been contaminated by the uncooked meat and must be washed and sanitized before being used again.

Do not use the same utensils to handle cooked and raw, fresh or frozen meat. Raw, fresh, and frozen meats must be regarded as hazardous and anything that touches them has also been contaminated. This would include, for example, knives, forks or tongs used to handle the meat. They would have to be washed and sanitized before being used again.

Raw, fresh or frozen meats must be stored on a shelf below and separate from any other food items to prevent them from contaminating the other items   such as by dripping on them. For example, a hotdog cart vendor using iceboxes to store refrigerated items would need to have one icebox for storing meat and another for storing non-meat items. Meats stored in a refrigerator with other foods must be kept on the bottom shelves below the other foods. Never store meat directly on the floor or the ground. Foods must always be stored on a shelf raised up off of the floor or ground.

Remember to always thoroughly wash and sanitize food preparation surfaces, equipment and utensils between uses.

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