Healthy Children - June 2019

Taking Care: Handling and Preparing Food Safely

Foodborne pathogens are sneaky. Food that appears completely fine can contain pathogens – disease-causing bacteria, viruses, or parasites – that can make you sick. You should never taste food to determine if it is safe to eat.

As a person with an illness, it is especially important that you – or those preparing your food – are always careful with food handling and preparation. The easiest ways to do this is to Check Your Steps – clean, separate, cook, and chill – from the Food Safe Families Campaign.

Four Basic Steps to Food Safety:

  1. Clean: Wash your hands and surfaces often. Bacteria can spread throughout the kitchen and get onto cutting boards, utensils, counter tops, and food.

To ensure that your hands and surfaces are clean, be sure to:

  • Wash your hands in warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, or handling pets.
  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with hot soapy water between the preparation of raw meat, poultry, and seafood products and preparation of any other food that will not be cooked. As an added precaution, sanitize cutting boards and countertops by rinsing them in a solution made of one tablespoon of unscented liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water, or, as an alternative, you may run the plastic board through the wash cycle in your automatic dishwasher.
  • Use paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces. If using cloth towels, you should wash them often in the hot cycle of the washing machine.
  • Wash produce. Rinse fruits and vegetables, and rub firm-skin fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten.
  • With canned goods: remember to clean lids before opening.
  1. Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate. Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria are spread from one food product to another. This is especially common when handling raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. The key is to keep these foods – and their juices – away from ready-to-eat foods.

To prevent cross-contamination, remember to:

  • Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs from other foods in your grocery-shopping cart, grocery bags, and in your refrigerator.
  • Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs without first washing the plate with hot soapy water.
  • Don’t reuse marinades used on raw foods unless you bring them to a boil first.
  • Consider using one cutting board only for raw foods and another only for ready-to-eat foods, such as bread, fresh fruits and vegetables, and cooked meat.
  1. Cook: Cook to safe temperatures. Foods are safely cooked when they are heated to the USDA-FDA recommended safe minimum internal temperatures, as shown on the “Is It Done Yet?” chart.

To ensure that your foods are cooked safely, always:

  • Use a food thermometer to measure the internal temperature of cooked foods. Check the internal temperature in several places to make sure that the meat, poultry, seafood, or egg product is cooked to safe minimum internal temperatures.
  • Cooked ground beef to at least 160° F and ground poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165° Color of food is not a reliable indicator of safety or doneness.
  • Reheat fully cooked hams packaged at a USDA-inspected plant to 140° For fully cooked ham that has been repackaged in any other location or for leftover fully cooked ham, heat to 165° F.
  • Cooked seafood to 145° Cook shrimp, lobster, and crab until they turn red and the flesh is nearly opaque. Cook clams, mussels, and oysters until the shells open. If the shells do not open, do not eat the seafood inside.
  • Cook eggs until the yolks and whites are firm. Use only recipes in which the eggs are cooked or heated to 160°
  • Cook all raw beef, lamb, pork, and veal steaks, roasts, and chops to 145° F with a 3-minute rest time after removal from the heat source.
  • Bring sauces, soups, and gravy to a boil when reheating. Heat other leftovers to 165°
  • Reheat hot dogs, luncheon meats, bologna, and other deli meats until steaming hot or 165°
  • When cooking in a microwave oven, cover food, stir, and rotate for even cooking. If there is no turntable, rotate the dish by hand once or twice during cooking. Always allow standing time, which completes the cooking, before checking the internal temperature with a food thermometer. Food is done when it reaches the USDA-FDA recommended safe minimum internal temperature.
  1. Chill: refrigerate promptly. Cold temperatures slow the growth of harmful bacteria. Keeping a constant refrigerator temperature of 40° F or below is one of the most effective ways to reduce risk of foodborne illness. Use an appliance thermometer to be sure the refrigerator temperature is consistently 40° F or below and the freezer temperature is 0° F or below.

To chill foods properly:

  • Refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, and other perishables within 2 hours of cooking or purchasing. Refrigerate within 1 hour if the temperature outside is about 90°
  • Never thaw food at room temperature, such as on the countertop. It is safe to thaw food in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. If you thaw food in cold water or in the microwave, you should cook it immediately.
  • Divide large amounts of food into shallow containers for quicker cooling in the refrigerator.