Food Safety

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Clean / Separate / Cook / Chill


CLEAN: Wash Hands and Surfaces Often

Bacteria can be spread throughout the kitchen and get onto hands, cutting boards, utensils, counter tops, and food.

  • Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food and after using the bathroom or changing diapers. Wash your hands after playing with pets or visiting petting zoos.
    • Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well. Be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
    • 20 seconds is about the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.
    • Dry your hands with a clean cloth or paper towel. 
    • Wash your countertops, cutting boards, dishes, and utensils with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before going on to the next food item. 
    • Consider using paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces. If you use cloth towels, wash them often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.
    • Keep your fridge clean, too: wipe spills immediately and regularly clean the inside with hot water and liquid soap. Dry with paper towels.
    • Rub firm-skinned fruits and vegetables, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten, under running tap water or scrub with a clean vegetable brush while rinsing with running tap water.
      • Packaged fruits and veggies labeled “ready-to-eat,” “washed,” or “triple-washed” should not be washed. Doing so may increase the risk for cross-contamination.
      • Do not use soap or bleach to wash produce. These products are not intended for consumption.
      • Keep books, backpacks, or shopping bags off the kitchen table or counters where food is prepared or served.

SEPARATE: Don’t Cross Contaminate

Cross contamination is how bacteria can be spread. When handling raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs, keep these foods and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods. Always start with a clean scene—wash hands with warm water and soap. Wash cutting boards, dishes, countertops, and utensils with hot, soapy water.

  • Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs from other foods.
    • In the grocery store: place these products in separate plastic bags to prevent juices from getting on other foods. If you use reusable grocery bags, wash them frequently in the washing machine.
    • At home: place these products in sealed plastic bags or containers on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to prevent juices from contaminating other foods. If you don’t plan to use these foods within a few days, freeze them.
    • Keep fresh fruits and vegetables separate from raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs.
    • Use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
    • Use a food thermometer, which measures the internal temperature of cooked meat, poultry, and egg dishes, to make sure that the food is cooked to a safe internal temperature.
    • Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs.
    • Sauce that is used to marinate raw meat, poultry, or seafood should not be used on cooked food unless it is boiled first to destroy any harmful bacteria.

COOK: Cook to Proper Temperatures

Food is safely cooked when it reaches a high enough internal temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Use a food thermometer to measure the internal temperature of cooked foods.

  • Color is Not a Reliable Indicator of Safety
    • Color and texture are not reliable indicators of whether food has reached a high enough internal temperature to destroy pathogens.
    • According to USDA research, 1 in 4 hamburgers turn brown before reaching a safe internal temperature.
    • Use a food thermometer, which measures the internal temperature of cooked meat, poultry, and egg dishes, to make sure that the food is cooked to a safe internal temperature.
      • Food thermometers should be placed in the thickest part of the food, making sure not to touch bone, fat, or gristle.
      • Cook beef roasts and steaks to a safe minimum internal temperature of 145°F. Cook pork to a minimum of 145°F. All poultry should reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F throughout the bird, as measured with a food thermometer.
      • Cook all ground meat to 160°F. Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) links eating undercooked ground beef with a higher risk of illness. Remember, color is not a reliable indicator of doneness. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of your burgers.
      • Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm, not runny. Don’t use recipes in which eggs remain raw or only partially cooked. Casseroles and other dishes containing eggs should be cooked to 160°F.
      • Cook fish to 145°F or until the flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork.
      • Bring sauces, soups, and gravies to a boil when reheating. Heat other leftovers thoroughly to 165°F.
      • For best microwave-safe cooking:
        • Make sure there are no cold spots in food (where bacteria can survive) when cooking in a microwave oven. For best results, cover food, stir, and rotate for even cooking. If there is no turntable, rotate the dish by hand once or twice during cooking.
        • Use microwave-safe cookware and plastic wrap when cooking foods in a microwave oven.
        • Read and follow package cooking directions; most convenience foods are not ready to eat out of the container. Make sure you know if the directions require a microwave oven or a conventional oven.
        • Know your microwave’s wattage; if it is lower than the wattage in cooking instructions, the food will take longer to heat up.

CHILL: Refrigerate Promptly

Refrigerate foods quickly because cold temperatures slow the growth of harmful bacteria. Do not over-stuff the refrigerator. Cold air must circulate to help keep food safe. Keeping a constant refrigerator temperature of 40°F or below is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Use an appliance thermometer to be sure the temperature is consistently 40°F or below. The freezer temperature should be 0°F or below.

  • Don’t go too low: As temperatures approach 32°F, ice crystals can form and lower the quality of foods.
  • Never let raw meat, poultry, eggs, cooked food, or cut fresh fruits or vegetables sit at room temperature more than two hours before putting them in the refrigerator or freezer (one hour when the temperature is above 90°F).
  • Never defrost food at room temperature. Food must be kept at a safe temperature during thawing. There are three safe ways to defrost food: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave using the defrost setting. Food thawed in cold water or in the microwave should be cooked immediately.
  • Always marinate food in the refrigerator.
  • Divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers for quicker cooling in the refrigerator.
  • Use or discard refrigerated food on a regular basis.
  • To prevent the spread of harmful bacteria, wipe spills immediately. Regularly clean the inside of your fridge with hot water and liquid soap, and dry with a clean cloth or paper towels.

Keeping Cold Lunches Cold

Prepare cooked food, such as turkey, ham, chicken, and vegetables or pasta salads, ahead of time to allow for thorough chilling in the refrigerator. Divide large amounts of food into shallow containers for fast chilling and easier use. Keep cooked food refrigerated until time to leave home.

To keep lunches cold away from home, include a small frozen gel pack or frozen juice box. Of course, if there’s a refrigerator available, store perishable items there upon arrival. Insulated, soft-sided boxes or bags are best for keeping food cold, but metal or plastic lunch boxes and paper bags can also be used. If using paper lunch bags, create layers by double bagging to help insulate food.

Some food is safe without a cold source. Items that don’t require refrigeration include whole fruits and vegetables, hard cheese, unopened canned meat and fish, chips, breads, crackers, peanut butter, jelly, mustard, and pickles.

Keeping Hot Lunches Hot

Use an insulated container to keep food like soup, chili, and stew hot. Fill the container with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, empty, then put in the piping hot food. Keep the insulated container closed until lunchtime to keep the food hot—140°F or above.

For more information, visit the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

This material was funded by USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – SNAP. This institution is an equal opportunity provider.