Those of us on the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline can always tell when St. Patrick’s Day approaches. Starting in early March, we begin to receive lots of questions about corned beef: How do you prepare it? How can you tell when it’s safely cooked? How long can you store it?

While a traditional dinner of corned beef and cabbage may bring you the “luck of the Irish,” you can’t rely on good luck to ensure that your meal is food safe. Instead, follow these tips to make sure that you and your guests don’t turn green (with food poisoning!). Package Dating and Storage Times If you buy uncooked corned beef in a pouch with pickling juices which has a “sell-by” date or no date, you may store it for 5 to 7 days in the refrigerator, unopened. If you buy products with a “use-by” date, you may store it unopened in the refrigerator until that date. An uncooked corned beef brisket may be frozen for 1 month for best quality if you drain and re-wrap it. We recommended draining the brine because salt encourages rancidity and texture changes. The flavor and texture will diminish with prolonged freezing, but the product is still safe. Preparation Corned beef is made from one of several less tender cuts of beef such as the brisket, rump or round. Therefore, it requires long, moist cooking. It can be cooked on top of the stove or in the oven, microwave, or slow cooker. USDA does not recommend one particular cooking method as best, but we do provide cooking directions in our fact sheet, Corned Beef and Food Safety. Whatever method you use, make sure that the corned beef reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees F or above. Cooking Ahead It’s safe to cook corned beef ahead of time. After cooking, cut it into several pieces for faster cooling, or slice it if you like. Place the beef in, shallow containers and cool it in the refrigerator quickly. Leftovers Leftover corned beef should be sliced and refrigerated promptly — within 2 hours of cooking or reheating. Use cooked-ahead or leftover corned beef within 3 to 4 days or freeze 2 to 3 months.

MORE TIPS AND TRICKS:

Keeping corned beef safe to eat: Storing and preparing
The luck of the Irish only goes so far, so knowing how to properly store, prepare, cook, and reheat your corned beef will help you avoid foodborne illness this St. Paddy’s Day. Corned beef comes from the tougher part of the cow, and to tenderize the beef it is placed in a bath of salt water along with spices, most commonly peppercorns and bay leaf. If you buy uncooked corned beef in a salt brine drain the brine before freezing or refrigerating because the excess salt can cause the beef to go rancid. If the brine is not drained, the corned beef can be stored unopened safely 5 to 7 days in the refrigerator.

Keeping corned beef safe to eat: Cooking and leftovers
Corned beef can be prepared in several different ways, and the USDA doesn’t recommend one kind of cooking over the other. The five freshest ways to fix corned beef are: 1) in the oven, 2) in an oven cooking bag, 3) in a slow cooker, 4) on the stove, and 5) in the microwave. Just make sure that you follow the temperature and time instructions for the specific cooking method that you are using. Find the USDA’s instructions for cooking corned beef here:

https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/meat-preparation/corned-beef-and-food-safety/ct_index.

The USDA says that “fork-tender” (https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/meat-preparation/corned-beef-and-food-safety/ct_index) is a “good indication of doneness”, but to use a food thermometer to make sure the meat is heated to an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit before consuming. In an article by Stanley Rutledge of Stop Foodborne Illness, he says that just because your food may look done, and the meat may still look pink, this does not indicate it is done. A food thermometer is essential to making sure your food is safe to eat. Take a look at this listfrom Stop Foodborne Illness of safe internal cooking temperatures for reference.

Also, allow the meat to rest for at least 3 minutes before carving and eating. If cooking ahead of time, allow the beef to cool, slice it, and place it in containers to refrigerate within two hours (https://stopfoodborneillness.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/How-Temperatures-Affect-Food-Meat-Thermometers.pdf) of cooking. Leftover corned beef can be consumed safely within 3-4 days of cooking when put in the fridge or can be frozen for up to 2-3 months. Reheat any leftovers to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit and use a food thermometer to check.

Cocktails and dining out
This St. Patrick’s Day, you might also decide to indulge in a specialty traditional cocktail, like the An Bodhran, or treat yourself to a night out to eat. However, use caution when partaking in specialty drinks because some ingredients could potentially lead to foodborne illness. For example, An Bodhran, made with Irish Whiskey and maple sugar, also contains a raw egg. Stop Foodborne Illness warns against consuming raw eggs (https://stopfoodborneillness.org/fsn-eating-raw-cookie-dough-and-other-risky-mistakes/) because raw eggs could contain salmonella, a harmful bacteria that leads directly to food poisoning and foodborne illness.

Additionally, when treating yourself to a night out, if you have any suspicions about the safety of the food delivered to your table you should not hesitate to raise concerns, Stop Foodborne Illness provides some helpful tips on how to address these kinds of food safety concerns. We want you to have a safe, healthy, and delicious St. Patrick’s Day this year.

Food safety in general
According to the CDC, food can be contaminated when bacteria are transferred from the kitchen tools to the food, when unwashed hands are used to handle food, and when foods are not packaged correctly. Learn more about how food gets contaminated here.

Four simple ways (https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/keep-food-safe.html) to keep food safe, according to the CDC, are to

1) wash surfaces, hands, and fresh produce

2) keep meat, seafood, poultry, and eggs separate in food preparation and food storage

3) cook food thoroughly by using a food thermometer

4) freeze food to keep safe until you can cook it

Your kitchen and cooking equipment should be food safe, too. Stop Foodborne Illness also has tips on how to properly clean, sanitize, and disinfect your kitchen tools and home to minimize the transfer of bacteria from your kitchen area to your food. According to Stop Foodborne Illness, the first step is to clean visible crumbs and mess from your dishes and utensils. The second step is to sanitize them with high heat or chemical solution to kill harmful bacteria, and the third step is to disinfect your kitchen surfaces with a cleaning solution.

About Stop Foodborne Illness: Stop Foodborne Illness is a national nonprofit, public health organization dedicated to preventing illness and death from foodborne pathogens by promoting sound food safety policy and best practices, building public awareness, and assisting those impacted by foodborne illness. For more food safety tips please visit www.Stopfoodborneillness.org/awareness/. If you think you have been sickened from food, contact your local health professional.