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Food Safety for Home Cooks

Food Safety for Home Cooks

To help protect your family from foodborne illnesses, follow these top food safety rules:

Keep it clean.


  • This phot shows an apple being washedWash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers and handling pets.
  • Wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next food.
  • Consider using paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces. If you use cloth towels wash them often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.
  • Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten.
  • Rub firm-skin fruits and vegetables under running tap water or scrub with a clean vegetable brush while rinsing with running tap water.
  • Wash hands and food preparation surfaces often. Also wash fresh fruits and vegetables very carefully.
  • Once cutting boards become excessively worn or develop hard-to-clean grooves, replace them.
  • Use clean disposable gloves if you have a skin abrasion or infection and wash your hands (gloved or not) with warm, soapy water.
  • To sanitize items, soak them in a solution of 1 teaspoon of household bleach per gallon of warm water. This solution may also be used in a clean spray bottle for counters and equipment.

Separate, don't cross-contaminate.


Cross-contamination is the transfer of harmful germs or viruses to food from other foods, cutting boards, utensils, surfaces, or hands. To prevent cross contamination:

  • Separate foods in your grocery cart. Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices away from other food to further prevent the possibility of cross-contamination. Keep them separated during checkout and in your grocery bags, too
  • Always wash your hands before handling food and after handling raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs, using the toilet, smoking, eating, drinking, coughing and sneezing. Keep yourself clean by daily bathing and cleaning your fingernails.
  • Wash all utensils and surfaces before starting to work and wash as many times as you need to while you prepare food.
  • After cutting raw meat, wash the cutting board and prep surface area with warm soapy water and rinse with clean water before cutting vegetables or ready-to-eat foods on the same surface.
  • Do not use theThis photo shows several food items on a counter same knife to cut raw meats or poultry and then to cut other foods. Wash knives and other utensils before cutting different foods.
  • Make sure that clean items do not touch dirty or contaminated ones.
  • Do not place cooked food back onto the same plate that was used to carry raw food to a grill or oven.

Cook to proper minimum temperatures.


This photo shows a food thermometer being used to test chicken temperatureHeat can kill most kinds of harmful bacteria and viruses that cause foodborne illness. But you can’t tell just by looking at a food if it has reached a safe temperature. You have to use a metal stem food thermometer with a range of 0°F to 220°F to take to take internal temperature (by poking the thermometer into the center of the product). Food thermometers are available at most grocery stores. Do not leave the thermometer in the food while it is cooking. Check the temperature at the end of the cooking process.

Here are federally-recommended minimum food safety temperatures.

  • Ground Meat & Meat Mixtures
    • Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb: 160°F
    • Turkey, Chicken: 165°F
  • Fresh Beef, Veal, Lamb
    • Steaks, roasts, chops: 145°F
  • Poultry
    • Chicken & Turkey, whole: 165°F
    • Poultry breasts, roasts: 165°F
    • Poultry thighs, legs, wings: 165°F
    • Duck and goose: 165°F
    • Stuffing (cooked alone or in bird): 165°F
  • Pork and Ham
    • Fresh Pork: 160°F
    • Fresh Ham (raw): 160°F
    • Precooked Ham (to reheat): 140°F
  • Egg and Egg Dishes
    • Eggs: Cook until yolk and white are firm
    • Egg Dishes: 160°F
  • Leftovers and Casseroles
    • Leftovers: 165°F
    • Casseroles: 165°F

Chill it safely. Avoid the Danger Zone.


Bacteria grows fastest at “danger zone” temperatures between 41°F and 130°F. At room temperature, bacteria in food can double every 20 minutes. Refrigerating food quickly is one of the most effective ways to reduce your risk of foodborne illness.

  • Place leftovers in shallow containers no more than 4 inches deep. Refrigerate or freeze immediately.
  • Discard food left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours; 1 hour when the temperature is above 90°F.
  • If your grocery store is more than a half hour away from home, bring a cooler when you go shopping. Select meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs last and pack in a cooler for the drive home.
  • Always maintain your refrigerator temperature at or below 41°F.
  • You do not have to let foods cool down before refrigerating them. If you do leave food out awhile after cooking it, refrigerate it before it cools below 130°F. At 130°F, put the food in the refrigerator. The faster a food cools, the safer it will be. This photo shows food stored in a plastic container
  • Cut hams, roasts, turkeys into smaller portions, and refrigerate.
  • Separate large amounts of stew into smaller portions, then refrigerate.
  • Place raw meats on bottom shelf. Do not let raw meats and other food drip onto any other foods!
  • Keep cooked foods such as puddings and luncheon meats, and foods that will be eaten raw, such as vegetables and fruits, on shelves above raw meats.
  • Keep raw meats/dishes separated from each other in containers placed on a pan on the bottom shelf of the fridge