Home Food Safety
Home Food Safety: Spring Edition
Each year, according to CDC, foodborne illnesses in the U.S. lead to approximately 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. Many of these illnesses can be prevented by changing behaviors in the kitchen. Food that is mishandled can cause very serious consequences for all, especially for "at-risk" groups—infants, young children, older adults, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems. For this reason, it is important to be especially careful when preparing and serving food to large groups.
This spring, we’re reinforcing the basics by encouraging families to follow the four steps to food safety: clean, separate, cook and chill.
Clean hands, surfaces and utensils with soap and warm water before cooking, and always rinse produce.
- HANDS: Wash hands for 20 seconds before and after handling raw food.
- EQUIPMENT: 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, regular strength, liquid chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water to sanitize washed surfaces and utensils.
- FOODS: Wash produce by rinsing it under running water – do not use soap, detergent, bleach, or commercial produce washes. However, avoid washing meat, poultry, or eggs! Washing raw meat and poultry can help bacteria spread, because their juices may splash onto (and contaminate) your sink and countertops. All commercial eggs are washed before sale.
Use separate cutting boards, plates and utensils to avoid cross-contamination. Manage your food storage to keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from ready to eat foods.
- SHOPPING: At the grocery store, separate 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.
- STORAGE: 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.
- PREPARATION: Use one cutting board for fresh produce, and a different one for raw meat, poultry, or seafood. Once a cutting board gets excessively worn or develops hard-to-clean grooves, consider replacing it. Use separate plates and utensils for cooked and raw foods.
Confirm foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature by using a food thermometer. Cooked food is safe only after it’s been heated to a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria.
- CHECK TEMPERATURE: 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, then compare your thermometer reading to the Minimum Cooking Temperatures Chart.
- HOT HOLDING: If you’re not eating your food immediately, keep it hot after cooking (at 140 ˚F or above) by using a heat source like a chafing dish, warming tray, or slow cooker.
Chill foods promptly if not consuming immediately after cooking. Don’t leave food at room temperature for longer than two hours.
- REFRIGERATOR: Cold temperatures slow the growth of illness causing bacteria. Refrigerate perishable foods within two hours. Your fridge should be between 40 ˚F and 32 ˚F. Appliance thermometers help you know if the fridge is cold enough.
- FREEZER: You can freeze almost any food. That doesn’t mean that the food will be good to eat – or safe, because freezing does not destroy harmful bacteria. However, freezing does keep food safe until you can cook it. Your freezer should be 0 ˚F or below.
- THAWING: Thaw food in the refrigerator, under cold water, or in the microwave. Never thaw or marinate foods on the counter, since bacteria can multiply rapidly at room temperature. Or, simply cook without thawing. 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.
- DISCARDING: 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 to check the Safe Storage Times Chart.