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Safety Considerations for Meat, Fish and Poultry

Safe handling and temperatures for TCS meats, poultry and fish.

Learn what it takes to keep animal proteins out of the temperature danger zone.

Most of us would agree our meals center around the protein on our plates. Because meal choices are often driven by the protein we want, it’s easy to understand why this center of the plate superstar is so important. Equally important for anyone dealing with poultry, meat or fish is to know that these proteins require specific food-safety measures, known as Time and Temperature Control for Safety (TCS).

Why are meat, fish and poultry considered TCS foods?

Meat, fish and poultry are categorized as a TCS food because they contain protein, are moist and have a neutral or slightly acidic pH. These three factors can create the perfect environment for harmful microorganisms or toxins to rapidly reproduce at temperatures of 41°F to 135°F (5°C to 57°C). So any TCS food, including meat, fish and poultry, must be kept below 41°F (5°C) or above 135°F (57°C).

How to prevent meat-, fish- and poultry-related food hazards

From delivery to holding and everything in between, here’s how you can prevent food hazards when it comes to meat, fish and poultry.

Delivery. It’s important to check the temperature of any animal protein item at delivery. Most items should be below 41°F (5°C). The two exceptions are shell eggs and live shellfish, which can be delivered at or below 45°F (7°C) Also, check for evidence of thawing and refreezing, as such temporary increases in temperature can compromise the safety of the item. Ice crystals are a common indicator.

Storage. Refrigerate items below 41°F (5°C) and freeze them below 0°F (-18°C). Place them in this order:

Safest meat, fish and poultry placement in a foodservice cooler

Prep. Use separate cutting boards and knives when preparing meat, fish or poultry to avoid any cross-contamination.

Cooking. Before serving, check to make sure every piece of meat, fish or poultry has met the minimum internal cooking temp, leaving the meat thermometer in for the required time.

TCS temperatures for meat, fish and poultry

Holding. Remember the danger zone of 41°F to 135°F (5°C to 57°C) we talked about earlier? Those are the temps you want to remember for holding food. Cold items should be kept at or below 41°F (5°C) and hot foods need to be kept at or above 135°F (57°C).

More on TCS foods

If you’re a Gordon Food Service customer, log in to Gordon Experience and check out the Food Safety Awareness page and download the Time/Temperature Log Sheets. Have more questions? Contact our Nutrition Resource Center by calling 1-800-968-4426 or emailing

Not a customer? Let’s talk.