Food safety doesn't end with buying, transporting, and storing food safely.
Food safety doesn’t end with buying, transporting, and storing food safely. In fact, once you have food in your kitchen…the safety of your food is, literally, in your hands. Follow these basic guidelines - and remember, safe food preparation always begins with “clean.”
Keep it Clean
- Always wash hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before beginning food preparation, after handling raw food, after using the bathroom, eating, drinking, smoking, taking out trash, changing diapers or touching pets just to name a few.
- Use gloves to handle food if you have a cut or infection. Do not sneeze or cough into food.
Surfaces and Utensils
Harmful bacteria can spread throughout the kitchen and get into cutting boards, utensils, and countertops - causing “cross-contamination.” Keep raw meat, poultry, fish, and their juices away from other food - especially read-to-eat food.
- Wash cutting boards, dishes, and counter tops with hot, soapy water and sanitize after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next item.
- after cutting raw meat, poultry, and seafood, wash cutting boards, knives, and countertops with hot, soapy water an then sanitize.
Proper cutting board “care-and-feeding” is a key component of preventing cross-contamination. Here’s how:
- Always use a clean and sanitized cutting board for food preparation
- Try to use one cutting board for fresh produce - and a separate one for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
- Sanitize cutting boards with a freshly made solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water or an approved chemical sanitizer.
- Once cutting boards become excessively worn or develop hard-to-clean grooves, replace them.
- Use hot, soapy water and a clean dishcloth (or paper towels) to clean kitchen surfaces and wipe up spills.
- Wash dishcloths often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.
Preparation Tips for Produce
Fresh fruits and veggies are nutritional mainstays. Here’s how to make sure they’re safe:
- Before eating or preparing, wash fresh produce under running tap water to remove any lingering dirt. This also reduces bacteria that may be present. Firm produce (like apples or potatoes) can be scrubbed with a brush.
- Don’t wash fruits and vegetables with detergent or soap. These products are not approved for use on food. You could ingest residues from soap or detergent absorbed by the produce.
- Remove and throw away bruised or damaged portions of fruits and vegetables when preparing to cook them or before eating them raw.
Going from “frozen to thawed” needs to be accomplished safely! There are three ways to thaw - and because bacteria can multiply rapidly at room temperature, none of these methods involve the kitchen counter.
In the Refrigerator: This is the safest way to thaw meat and poultry. Take the food out of the freezer and thaw it in the fridge. Place it on a plate or in a pan to catch juices that may leak. Check a thawing chart for estimated thawing times. Many times it will be ready to use the next day.
In Cold Running Water: For faster thawing, put the frozen package in a watertight plastic bag and submerge under cold running water strong enough to wash loose food bits away; always use a clean and sanitized sink for this method and never let the food temperature go above 41 degrees for more than 4 hours. The cold water slows bacteria that might be growing in the thawed portions of the meat while the inner areas are still thawing. Once thawed, cook it immediately.
In the Microwave: Follow instructions from the oven’s manufacturer or owner’s manual. Cook immediately after thawing in the microwave.
- Meat and poultry that have been fully defrosted in the refrigerator may be refrozen before or after cooking.
- If thawed in cold water or in the microwave, always fully cook before freezing.
Cooking Food Safely
Cooking food to a safe temperature is the best way to ensure safety. That’s because when food reaches a safe minimum internal temperature, bacteria that may be lurking is destroyed. Sound complicated? It’s not. It’s as easy as using a food thermometer.
About Food Thermometers
Food safety experts agree: food is safe to eat when it is cooked or reheated to a high enough temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness.
The only accurate way to know if food is cooked safely is to measure the internal temperature of cooked meat, poultry, and egg products with a food thermometer. You can’t tell by looking - use a food thermometer to be sure. Color and texture are not reliable indicators of safely cooked food.
How to Use a Food Thermometer
1. Place the food thermometer in the thickest part of the food.
- Make sure it’s not touching bone, fat, or gristle.
- For whole poultry, insert the thermometer into the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.
- For combination dishes, place the thermometer in the center or thickest portion of the food. Egg dishes and dishes containing ground meat or poultry should be checked in several places.
2. Wait the amount of time recommended for your particular type of thermometer.
3. Compare your thermometer reading to the Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart to determine if your food has reached the minimum internal temperature for that product.
4. Clean your food thermometer with hot, soapy water and sanitize it before and after each use!