Contaminated food makes millions of Americans sick every year, causing cramps, nausea and vomiting that can lead to dehydration and other health issues. Some cases are prompted by parasites or pesticides. But, according to the National Institutes of Health, bacteria and viruses are more often the culprits.
All foods can become contaminated. But safe food handling, cooking and storage practices significantly reduce the chance of foodborne illness. Follow these four steps—clean, separate, cook, clean—to increase your food safety at home.
Step 1: Clean
The bacteria and germs that lead to food poisoning can live on nearly every surface in your kitchen. If your hands aren’t clean then they can be the worst offenders.
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before, during and after food prep. Be especially vigilant when handling raw meat, seafood, poultry or raw eggs.
- Clean cutting boards, utensils and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each item.
- Thoroughly rinse all fresh fruits and vegetables under running water before eating. Bleach, soap and commercial produce rinses are not necessary.
Step 2: Separate
Avoid cross contamination in your kitchen and you’ll also avoid a major source of food contamination.
- Keep eggs in their original container. Keep them in the main compartment of your refrigerator, not the door, to maintain freshness longer.
- Store raw seafood, poultry and meat in leakproof containers or bags to prevent cross contamination in the refrigerator. Freeze anything you don’t plan to use within a few days.
- Use separate utensils, plates and cutting boards when preparing eggs, produce, poultry, seafood and raw meat.
Step 3: Cook
Cook your food until its internal temperature is high enough to destroy the bacteria and germs that can make you ill. Use a food thermometer to verify you're cooking your food to a safe internal temperature before sitting down to eat.
- Fish with fins should cook until it reaches 145°F.
- Ground chicken or turkey should cook until it reaches 160°F.
- Ground pork or beef should cook until it reaches 160°F.
- Leftovers and casseroles should cook until they reach 165°F.
- Whole cuts of veal, ham, pork, lamb and beef should cook until they reach 145°F.
Step 4: Chill
Bacteria multiply rapidly when food temperature hits the “danger zone” between 40°F and 140°F. Proper refrigeration can prevent that from happening.
- Keep hot foods hot with an internal temperature of 140°F or higher and cold foods cold with an internal temperature of 40°F or below.
- Never leave perishable foods out of the refrigerator for longer than two hours. Refrigerate within one hour if food is exposed to temperatures above 90°.
- Set your refrigerator’s thermostat at 40°F or below and keep your freezer at 0°F or below. Use an appliance thermometer to check the appliance’s accuracy.
- Thaw and marinate seafood, poultry and meat in the refrigerator, in the microwave or in cold water—not on the counter.