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Food Safety at Home

Forgetting about food safety is a recipe for disaster.

Did you know that one in six Americans could get sick from food poisoning this year alone?  Food poisoning not only sends more than 100,000 Americans to the hospital each year - it can also have long-termed health consequences.

By following four simple steps can help keep your family safe from food poisoning at home.


Wash hands and surfaces often.

Why it matters:  Illness-causing bacteria can survive in many places around your kitchen, including your hands, utensils, and cutting boards.  Unless you wash your hands, utensils, and surfaces the right way, you could spread bacteria to your food, and your family

Follow these top tips to keep your family safe.

Wash hands the right way for 20 seconds with plain soap and running water.  Here’s how to do it:

  • Wet your hands with warm or cold running water and apply soap. According to FDA, you should use plain soap and water—skip the antibacterial soap.
  • 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. Bacteria can hide out here too! 
  • Continue rubbing hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum “Happy Birthday” from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry.

When to wash your hands:

  • Before eating food.
  • Before, during, and after preparing food.
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound.
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick.
  • After handling uncooked eggs, or raw meat, poultry, seafood, or their juices.
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • After touching an animal or animal waste.
  • After touching garbage.
  • After using the toilet.
  • Wash surfaces and utensils after each use.

Bacteria can be spread throughout the kitchen and get onto cutting boards, utensils, and counter tops. To prevent this:

  • Use paper towels or clean cloths to wipe up kitchen surfaces or spills.  Wash cloths often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.
  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next item.
  • As an extra precaution, you can use a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water to sanitize washed surfaces and utensils.

Wash fruits and veggies—but not meat, poultry, or eggs!

Did you know that even if you plan to peel fruits and veggies it’s important to wash them first because bacteria can spread from the outside to the inside as you cut or peel them? Here’s how to wash all your produce effectively…

  • Cut away any damaged or bruised areas.
  • Rinse produce under running water. Don’t use soap, detergent, bleach, or commercial produce washes.
  • Scrub firm produce—like melons or cucumbers—with a clean produce brush.
  • Dry produce with a paper towel or clean cloth towel… and you’re done.
  • The good news? Bagged produce marked “pre-washed” is safe to use without further washing.

Why not wash meat, poultry, and eggs? Washing raw meat and poultry can actually help bacteria spread, because their juices may splash onto (and contaminate!) your sink and countertops. All commercial eggs are washed before sale. Any extra handling of the eggs, such as washing, may actually increase the risk of cross-contamination, especially if the shell becomes cracked.

Additional Resources:

Cleanliness Helps Prevent Foodborne Illness (USDA)
Everything that touches food should be clean: hands, surfaces, cutting boards, utensils, everything.

Washing Food: Does it Promote Food Safety? (USDA)
Tips for meat, poultry, eggs, fruits, and vegetables.

Information provided by www.foodsafety.gov.


Separate Don't cross-contaminate.

Why it matters.  Even after you’ve cleaned your hands and surfaces thoroughly, raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs can still spread illness-causing bacteria to ready-to-eat foods—unless you keep them separate.

But which foods need to be kept separate, and how?

Follow these top tips to keep your family safe

Use separate cutting boards and plates for produce and for meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs.

Placing ready-to-eat food on a surface that held raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs can spread bacteria and make you sick. But stopping cross-contamination is simple.

  • Use one cutting board for fresh produce, and one for raw meat, poultry, or seafood.
  • Use separate plates and utensils for cooked and raw foods.
  • Before using them again, thoroughly wash plates, utensils, and cutting boards that held raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs.
  • Once a cutting board gets excessively worn or develops hard-to-clean grooves, consider replacing it.

Keep meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from all other foods at the grocery.

Make sure you aren’t contaminating foods in your grocery bag by:

  • Separating raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs from other foods in your shopping cart.
  • At the checkout, place raw meat, poultry, and seafood in plastic bags to keep their juices from dripping on other foods.
  • Keep meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from all other foods in the fridge.

Bacteria can spread inside your fridge if the juices of raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs drip onto ready-to-eat foods. But stopping this contamination is simple.

  • Place raw meat, poultry, and seafood in containers or sealed plastic bags to prevent their juices from dripping or leaking onto other foods. If you’re not planning to use these foods within a few days, freeze them instead.
  • Keep eggs in their original carton and store them in the main compartment of the refrigerator—not in the door.

 Information provided by www.foodsafety.gov.


Cook to the right temperature.

Why it matters.  Did you know that the bacteria that cause food poisoning multiply quickest in the “Danger Zone” between 40° and 140° Fahrenheit?

And while many people think they can tell when food is “done” simply by checking its color and texture, there’s no way to be sure it’s safe without following a few important but simple steps

Follow these top tips to keep your family safe.

Use a food thermometer.

Cooked food is safe only after it’s been heated to a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria. Color and texture alone won’t tell you whether your food is done. Instead, use a food thermometer to be sure.

  • If you don’t already have one, consider buying a food thermometer. Learn more about the different types of food thermometers available.
  • When you think your food is done, place the food thermometer in the thickest part of the food, making sure not to touch bone, fat, or gristle.
  • Wait the amount of time recommended for your type of thermometer.
  • Compare your thermometer reading to the Minimum Cooking Temperatures Chart to be sure it’s reached a safe temperature.
  • Some foods need 3 minutes of rest time after cooking to make sure that harmful germs are killed. Check the Minimum Cooking Temperatures Chart for details.
  • Clean your food thermometer with hot, soapy water after each use.

Keep food hot after cooking at 140°F  or above. 

The possibility of bacterial growth actually increases as food cools after cooking because the drop in temperature allows bacteria to thrive. But you can keep your food above the safe temperature of 140°F by using a heat source like a chafing dish, warming tray, or slow cooker.

Slow Cookers and Food Safety (USDA)
Slow cookers are a safe and efficient way to cook foods – if you follow these safety rules.

Microwave food thoroughly to 165°F. 

To make sure harmful bacteria have been killed in your foods, it’s important to microwave them to 165°F or higher. Here’s how:

  • When you microwave, stir your food in the middle of heating.
  • If the food label says, “Let stand for x minutes after cooking,” don’t skimp on the standing time. Letting your microwaved food sit for a few minutes actually helps your food cook more completely by allowing colder areas of food time to absorb heat from hotter areas of food. That extra minute or two could mean the difference between a delicious meal and food poisoning.
  • After waiting a few minutes, check the food with a food thermometer to make sure it is 165°F or above.

Barbeques and Smokers.

Cooking doesn’t necessarily have to take place on the stovetop or in a conventional oven. While the basics of food safety apply to any type of cooking, special guidelines apply to appliances such as grills and smokers.

Barbeque Basics: Tips to Prevent Foodborne Illness (FDA)
Basic tips for grilling food, from preparation to cooking to storage.

Barbeque and Food Safety (USDA)
Technique for grilling, smoking, and even pit cooking meats safely.

Smoking Meat and Poultry (USDA)
Using a covered grill or a smoker to cook food safely requires two thermometers: one for the food and one for the smoker.

 Information provided by www.foodsafety.gov.


Chill - Refrigerate promptly.

Why it matters.  Did you know that illness-causing bacteria can grow in perishable foods within two hours unless you refrigerate them? (And if the temperature is 90 °F or higher during the summer, cut that time down to one hour!)

But by refrigerating foods promptly and properly, you can help keep your family safe from food poisoning at home. 

Follow these top tips to keep your family safe. 

Refrigerate perishable foods within two hours.

Cold temperatures slow the growth of illness causing bacteria. So it’s important to chill food promptly and properly. Here’s how:

  • Pack your refrigerator with care. To properly chill food (and slow bacteria growth), cold air must be allowed to circulate in your fridge. For this reason, it’s important not to over-stuff your fridge.
  • Your fridge should be between 40 °F and 32 °F. Appliance thermometers help you know if the fridge is cold enough.
  • Get perishable foods into the fridge or freezer within two hours. In the summer months, cut this time down to one hour.
  • Remember to store leftovers within two hours as well. By dividing leftovers into several clean, shallow containers, you’ll allow them to chill faster.


You can freeze almost any food. That doesn’t mean that the food will be good to eat – or safe.

  • Freezing does not destroy harmful bacteria, but it does keep food safe until you can cook it.
  • Your freezer should be 0 °F or below. Appliance thermometers help you know if the freezer is cold enough.

Never thaw or marinate foods on the counter. 

Many people are surprised at this tip. But since bacteria can multiply rapidly at room temperature, thawing or marinating foods on the counter is one of the riskiest things you can do when preparing food for your family.

To thaw food safely, choose one of these options:

  • Thaw in the refrigerator. This is the safest way to thaw meat, poultry, and seafood. Simply take the food out of the freezer and place it on a plate or pan that can catch any juices that may leak. Normally, it should be ready to use the next day.
  • Thaw in cold water. For faster thawing, you can put the frozen package in a watertight plastic bag and submerge it in cold water. Be sure to change the water every 30 minutes. Note: If you thaw this way, be sure to cook the food immediately.
  • Thaw in the microwave. Faster thawing can also be accomplished in the microwave. Simply follow instructions in your owner’s manual for thawing. As with thawing in cold water, food thawed in the microwave should be cooked immediately.
  • Cook without thawing. If you don’t have enough time to thaw food, just remember, it is safe to cook foods from a frozen state—but your cooking time will be approximately 50% longer than fully thawed meat or poultry.

To marinate food safely, always marinate it in the refrigerator.

Know when to throw food out.

You can’t tell just by looking or smelling whether harmful bacteria has started growing in your leftovers or refrigerated foods.

Be sure you throw food out before harmful bacteria grow by checking the Safe Storage Times chart

Additional Resources:

Appliance Thermometers (USDA)
 Appliance thermometers help you know if the refrigerator is cold enough.

Fighting BAC!® by Chilling Out (USDA)
 The safest place for leftovers is in the refrigerator where they can "chill out."

 Information provided by www.foodsafety.gov.