4 Steps to Food Safety

— Written By Virginia Lopez and last updated by

Did you know that 1 in 6 Americans get sick each year due food poisoning and 128,000 people end up in the hospital every year? The following 4 simple steps to Food Safety can help prevent you from becoming a victim of food poisoning. CLEAN, SEPARATE, COOK, and CHILL, let’s do a short overview of each of these steps.

Clean: Wash Hands, Utensils, and Surfaces Often

This is an essential step in slowing the spread of illness-causing germs which can survive in many places. This includes food, hands, utensils and cutting boards. Wash your hands, fingers and under your nails before, during and after preparing food, following the guidelines set by the CDC.

Consider the following tips from the USDA Food Safety Department for cleaning utensils, cutting boards and kitchen:

  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with hot, soapy water especially after they’ve held raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs.
  • Wash dish cloths often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables under running water without soap, bleach or commercial produce washes and consider using a produce brush to scrub firm produce.
  • Wash food packaging like the top of cans and the lids on jars before you open them up.
  • Dry produce with a paper towel or clean cloth towel.
  • Don’t wash meat, poultry, eggs, or bagged produce marked “pre-washed”

Separate: Don’t Cross Contaminate

Consider using separate kitchen utensils, pots and pans, and cutting boards for different foods. This will help avoid cross contamination. Use one cutting board for produce or other foods that won’t be cooked before they’re eaten, and another for raw meat, poultry, or seafood. The same goes for preparing and storing these foods.

  • Use separate plates and utensils for cooked and raw foods.
  • Wash thoroughly all plates, utensils, and cutting boards that touched raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs before using them again. Use hot, soapy water.

Keep certain types of food separate from each other:

  • In your shopping cart, separate raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs from other foods and place packages of raw meat, poultry, and seafood in plastic bags if available.
  • When you check out, place raw meat, poultry, and seafood in separate bags from other foods.
  • At home, place raw meat, poultry, and seafood in containers or sealed plastic bags. Freeze them if you’re not planning to use them within a few days.
  • In the fridge, keep eggs in their original carton and store them in the main compartment—not in the door.
  • Keep raw meats, poultry, seafood in the lower fridge shelves in case there is a leak in the package, it won’t land on and contaminate other
    foods

Cook: To The Right Temperature

Cooking foods to the right internal temperature is another way to kill germs that can make us sick. Tips to consider:

    • Use a food thermometer to be sure your food is safe. 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.
    • Refer to our Minimum Cooking Temperatures Chart to be sure your foods have reached a safe temperature.
    • Keep food hot (140˚F or above) after cooking.
    • If you’re not serving food right after cooking, keep it out of the temperature danger zone by using a heat source like a chafing dish, warming tray, or slow cooker.
    • Microwave food thoroughly (165˚F or above).
    • Read package directions for cooking and follow them exactly to make sure food is thoroughly cooked.
    • If the food label says, “Let stand for x minutes after cooking,” follow the directions — letting microwaved food sit for a few minutes enables colder areas to absorb heat from hotter areas.
    • Stir food in the middle of heating. Follow package directions for commercially prepared frozen food; some are not designed to be stirred while heating.

Chill: Refrigerate and Freeze Food Properly
Maintaining cooked and raw foods at proper temperatures is the final step to reducing the possibility of food poisoning. Bacteria that cause food poisoning multiply quickest between 40°F and 140°F. This is why it’s important to refrigerate perishable foods within 2 hours. The following tips will assure your food is safe to prepare, cook, and eat:

  • Your refrigerator should be set to 40°F or below and your freezer to 0°F or below. Use an appliance thermometer to be sure.
  • Never leave perishable foods out of refrigeration for more than 2 hours. If the food is exposed to temperatures above 90°F (like a hot car or summer picnic), refrigerate it within 1 hour.
  • Leftovers should be placed in shallow containers and refrigerated promptly to allow quick cooling.
  • Never thaw or marinate foods on the counter. The safest way to thaw or marinate meat, poultry, and seafood is in the refrigerator or under cold running water (thawing).
  • Freezing does not destroy harmful germs, but it does keep food safe until you can cook it.
  • Know when to throw out food by checking our Safe Storage Times Chart. Be sure you throw food out before harmful bacteria grow.

All this information will help you and your family stay safe from food poisoning at least in your own home. For additional information on washing hands and obtaining further information on each of the 4 Food Safety tips, please visit reliable sources such as the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Food Safety website.

Virginia C. Lopez is a Steps to Health Nutrition Educator and provides this information from the SNAP-Ed Steps to Health resources. It is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition.