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Food Safety for Home Cooks

Prepare Meat, Eggs and Fish Safely

Raw animal foods - meat, poultry, eggs, shellfish and unpasteurized milk - are among the riskiest foods for contamination. Plant foods can also be contaminated; the culprit is usually contact with bacteria from animal or human waste, polluted water or human handling errors. Raw animal foods made from the flesh or parts of many individual animals are especially risky. Make sure to follow these safe food handling and preparation guidelines.

Beef

The photo shows a raw hamburger patty on a counter.Prepare It Safe

Thawing

  • Safest method: Thaw in the refrigerator.
  • Next safest methods: Thaw food under cold running water or during cooking. It is also safe to thaw in a microwave if the food will be cooked promptly.

Cook It Safe

  • Roasts and steaks: Cook to an internal temperature of 155°F. Cook to surface temperature of 155°F for medium rare or 160°F for medium. (It is safe to eat steaks medium rare if the exterior is seared to an external temperature of 155°F on a hot grill.)
  • Ground beef (Hamburgers, meat loaf, lasagna, etc.): Fully cook hamburgers to an internal temperature of 160°F, until all traces of pink are gone and any juices from the meat are clear.
  • Use a metal stem food thermometer with a range of 0°F to 220°F (available at most grocery stores) to take internal temperature (poke thermometer into the center of the product).Do not leave the thermometer in the food while it is cooking. Check the temperature at the end of the cooking process.

Serve It Safe

  • Use a clean plate to transport food to the table.
  • Serve it hot: 130°F or above. Serve it cold: 45°F or below.

Chicken

Buy It Safe

  • Understand what labels on chicken actually mean.
    • "Inspected for wholesomeness by the U.S. Department of Agriculture" seal means the chicken is free from visible signs of disease. Inspection is mandatory.
    • “Grading” is a voluntary standard that is supposed to measure a chicken for meatiness, appearance and freedom from defects. “Grade A” chickens have plump, meaty bodies and clean skin, free of bruises, broken bones, feathers, cuts and discoloration.
  • Chicken should feel cold to the touch when purchased.
  • Select fresh chicken just before checking out at the register. Put packages of chicken in disposable plastic bags (if available) to contain any leakage which could cross-contaminate cooked foods or produce. Make the grocery your last stop before going home.
  • Darkening around bones occurs primarily in young broiler-fryers. Since their bones have not calcified completely, pigment from the bone marrow can seep throThe photo shows raw chicken breasts on a cutting mat.ugh the porous bones.
  • At home, immediately place chicken in a refrigerator that maintains 40°F, and use within 1 or 2 days, or freeze at 0°F in its original packaging or (if freezing longer than two months) wrapped, in addition, with airtight heavy-duty foil, plastic wrap, freezer paper, or inside a freezer bag or airtight freezer container.
  • When purchasing fully cooked rotisserie or fast food chicken, be sure the food is hot at time of purchase. Use it within two hours or cut it into several pieces and refrigerate in shallow, covered containers. Eat within 3 to 4 days, either cold or reheated to 165°F (hot and steaming).

Prepare It Safe

  • Cut freezer-burned portions away either before or after cooking the chicken.
  • Raw poultry must be handled carefully to prevent cross-contamination. This can occur if raw poultry or its juices contact cooked food or foods that will be eaten raw such as salad.
  • Never defrost chicken on the counter or in other locations Defrost one of three ways:
    • In the refrigerator
      • Boneless chicken breasts usually defrost overnight.Bone-in parts and whole chickens may take 1 to 2 days or longer.
      • Once the raw chicken defrosts, it can be kept in the refrigerator an additional day or two before cooking. During this time, if chicken defrosted in the refrigerator is not used, it can safely be refrozen without cooking first.
    • In cold water
      • Chicken may be defrosted in its airtight packaging or in a leak proof bag.
      • Submerge the bird or cut-up parts in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes to be sure it stays cold.
      • A whole (3 to 4-pound) broiler fryer or package of parts should defrost in 2 to 3 hours. A 1-pound package of boneless breasts will defrost in 1 hour or less.
      • Cooked fully before refreezing.
    • In the microwave
      • Chicken defrosted in the microwave should be cooked immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving. Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present wouldn't have been destroyed.
      • Cook fully before refreezing.
      • Do not cook frozen chicken in the microwave or in a slow cooker. (However, chicken can be cooked from the frozen state in the oven or on the stove. Cooking will probably take about 50 percent longer than defrosted chicken.)

Cook It Safe

  • Cook chicken to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F as measured using a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.
  • The color of cooked chicken is not a sign of its safety. Pink color in safely cooked chicken may be due to hemoglobin (the protein that makes blood cells red) in the tissues of young birds.
  • In a whole bird, if you find that the raw liver or liver parts in giblets are a green color, do not cook or eat them - a green color means the liver tissue is full of bile.
  • Approximate Minimum Chicken Cooking Times:
    • Whole broiler fryer, 3-4 pounds - Roast at 350°F 1¼ to 1½ hours (If stuffed, add 15 to 30 minutes additional time.); Simmer from 60 to 75 minutes; Grill (using drip pan) 60 to 75 minutes.
    • Whole roasting hen, 5-7 pounds - Roast at 350°F 2 to 2¼ hours (If stuffed, add 15 to 30 minutes additional time); Simmer from 1¾ to 2 hours; Grill (using drip pan) at 18-25 minutes per pound of weight.
    • Breast halves, bone-in, 6-8 ounces - Roast at 350°F 30 to 40 minutes; Simmer from 35 to 45 minutes; grill from 10 to 15 minutes per side.
    • Breast, boneless, 4 ounces - Roast at 350°F for 20 to 30 minutes; Simmer from 25 to 30 minutes; Grill for 6 to 8 minutes per side.
    • Legs, 8 ounces - Roast at 350°F 40 to 50 minutes; Simmer 40 to 50 minutes; Grill 10 to 15 minutes per side.
    • Thighs, 4 ounces - Roast at 350°F 40 to 50 minutes; Simmer 40 to 50 minutes; Grill 10 to 15 minutes per side.
    • Wings, 2-3 ounces - Roast at 350°F 30 to 40 minutes; Simmer 35 to 40 minutes; Grill 8 to 12 minutes per side.
  • Do not pre-stuff whole chicken to cook at a later time. Chicken can be stuffed immediately before cooking.
  • Never brown or partially cook chicken to refrigerate and finish cooking later because any bacteria present wouldn't have been destroyed. It is safe to partially pre-cook or microwave chicken immediately before transferring it to the hot grill to finish cooking.

Store It Safe

Since product dates aren't a guide for safe use of a product, how long can the consumer store the food and still use it at top quality? Follow these tips:

  • Purchase the product before the date expires.
  • Follow handling recommendations on product.
  • Keep chicken in its package until using.
Freeze chicken in its original packaging, overwrap or re-wrap it according to directions in the above section, "How to Handle Chicken Safely."

Eggs and Egg Dishes

The photo shows an opened carton of eggs.Cook It Safe

  • Cook to an internal temperature of 160°F.
  • Use a metal stem food thermometer with a range of 0°F to 220°F (available at most grocery stores) to take internal temperature (poke thermometer into the center of the product).Do not leave the thermometer in the food while it is cooking. Check the temperature at the end of the cooking process.

Serve It Safe

  • Use a clean plate to transport food to the table.
  • Serve it hot: 130°F or above.
  • Serve it cold: 45°F or below.

Fish

The photo showns raw fish garnished with lemon, cherries, and kale.Buy It/Catch It Safe

  • Before you shop for seafood or go fishing, check DHEC's S.C. Fish Consumption Advisory Map and Index issued annually with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. The advisories tell you which types of fish from local/state bodies of water to avoid or limit in your weekly diet due to higher than  normal levels of mercury or other water pollutants.
    • Pregnant women, nursing mothers, women who plan to become pregnant and babies and children under 14 are at higher risk for health problems from mercury, and should follow these guidelines:
  • Never eat king mackerel, shark, swordfish, or tilefish.
  • Eat only one 6-ounce serving a week of locally-caught freshwater fish, but only from one of the S.C. water bodies that do not have fish advisories.
  • Or, eat no more than 12 ounces (about two average-sized servings) a week of any low mercury fish and shellfish such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, and pollock. Albacore tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna, so that choice will limit your fish consumption for the week to one 6 ounce serving.
  • Only buy fish from clean stores or markets where the fish is refrigerated or displayed on a thick bed of fresh ice that is not melting, preferably in a case or under some type of cover.
  • Whole fish and fillets should have:
    • Eyes that are clear and bulge a little (except for walleye pike and a few other types with naturally cloudy eyes)
    • Firm, shiny flesh. Dull flesh could mean the fish is old. (Previously frozen fish fillets may have lost some of their shine, but are safe to eat.)
    • Bright red gills free from slime
    • Flesh that springs back when pressed
    • No darkening or drying around the edges (fillets)
    • No green or yellowish discoloration or appear dry or mushy in any areas (fillets)
    • A fresh mild smell that is not fishy, sour, or ammonia-like.
  • When buying frozen fish or seafood:
    • Don't buy it if package is open, torn or crushed on the edges.
    • Avoid packages that are positioned above the "frost line" or at the top of the freezer case.
    • If the package cover is transparent, look for signs of frost or ice crystals. These could mean the fish has been stored a long time or thawed and refrozen - in which case, choose another package.
  • When buying smoked seafood:
    • Pregnant women, older adults and people with weakened immune systems should lower their risk for listeriosis by avoiding refrigerated types of smoked seafood except in a cooked recipe. (Refrigerated smoked seafood such as salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna, or mackerel is usually labeled "nova-style," "lox," "kippered," "smoked," or "jerky" and is found in the refrigerated section of grocery stores and delicatessens.) Canned or shelf-stable smoked seafood is OK for these groups.
  • Buying sushi (raw fish). It's always best to cook seafood thoroughly to minimize the risk of foodborne illness. However, if you choose to eat raw fish anyway, only eat fish that have been previously frozen because freezing kills parasites. Freezing does not kill bacteria or viruses, however.

Prepare It Safe

  • Thaw frozen seafood gradually by placing it in the refrigerator overnight.
  • If you have to thaw seafood quickly, either seal it in a plastic bag and immerse it in cold water, or - if the food will be cooked immediately thereafter - microwave it on the "defrost" setting and stop the defrost cycle while the fish is still icy but soft enough to bend.

Cook It Safe

  • Broil, grill, or bake the trimmed, skinned fish on a rack so the fat drips away.
  • Cooked most types of seafood to an internal temperature of 145°F. Other ways to tell if seafood is done:
    • For fish, slip the point of a sharp knife into the flesh and pull it aside. The flesh should be opaque and separate easily. If you cooked the fish in the microwave, check it in more than one spot.
    • For shrimp and lobster, ensure that the flesh is pearly and not see-through (opaque).
  • For scallops, make sure the flesh is milky white or see-through (opaque) and firm.
  • Also see Shellfish.

Ham

The photo shows a raw ham.Prepare It Safe

Thawing

  • Safest method: Thaw in the refrigerator. It may take up to three days.
  • Next safest methods: Thaw food under cold running water or during cooking. It is also safe to thaw in a microwave if the food will be cooked promptly.
  • Unsafe! Thawing ham or turkey at room temperature is dangerous because large foods thaw unevenly.

Cook It Safe

  • Cook to an internal temperature of 160°F.
  • Use a metal stem food thermometer with a range of 0°F to 220°F (available at most grocery stores) to take internal temperature (poke thermometer into the center of the product).Do not leave the thermometer in the food while it is cooking. Check the temperature at the end of the cooking process.

Serve It Safe

  • Use a clean plate to transport food to the table.
  • Serve it hot: 130°F or above.
  • Serve it cold: 45°F or below.

Canned Hams

  • Shelf Stable Hams - Can be stored on a shelf for up to two years at room temperature. However, if exposed to high temperatures (above 122°F ) swelling and souring can occur, so throw it out immediately.
  • Refrigerated Canned Hams - Can be stored from 6-9 months in the refrigerator before harmful bacteria begin to grow.

Turkey

The photo shows a raw turkey.Store it Safe

  • Cook a fresh turkey within two days of purchase.
  • Store frozen turkey in freezer immediately after purchase or store it in a pan on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator.

Prepare It Safe

Thawing

  • Safest method: Thaw in refrigerator at 45°F. Place in a pan to prevent the juice dripping on to other foods. Allow 24 hours for every 5 pounds.
    • 8-12 pounds - 1 to 2 days
    • 12-16 pounds - 2 to 3 days
    • 16-20 pounds - 3 to 4 days
    • 20-24 pounds - 4 to 5 days
  • Next safest methods: Thaw under cold running water.  You can also thaw in a microwave if the food will be cooked promptly. Allow 30 minutes per pound.
    • 8-12 pounds - 4 to 6 hours
    • 12-16 pounds - 6 to 8 hours
    • 16-20 pounds - 8-10 hours
    • 20-24 pounds - 10-12 hours
  • Unsafe - Thawing ham or turkey at room temperature is dangerous because large foods thaw unevenly, allowing bacteria to grow rapidly on the outside while the inside is still defrosting.

Cook It Safe

  • Remove giblets/parts (often wrapped in paper inside turkey).
  • Roasting is the recommended method for cooking tender meats.
  • Set oven no lower than 325°F.
  • Preheating is not necessary. Lower oven temperatures may not kill bacteria.
  • Be sure turkey is completely defrosted.
  • Place turkey, breast side up, on a flat wire rack in a shallow roasting pan 2 to 2½ inches deep.
  • Cook to an internal temperature of 165°F.
    • Unstuffed Turkey:
      • 4-6 pound breast - 1½ to 2¼ hours
      • 6-8 pound breast - 2¼ to 3¼ hours
      • 8-12 pounds - 2¾ to 3 hours
      • 12-14 pounds - 3 to 3¾ hours
      • 14-18 pounds - 3¾ to 4¼ hours
      • 18-20 pounds - 4¼ to 4½ hours
      • 20-24 pounds - 4½ to 5 hours
    • Stuffed Turkey (not recommended*)
      • 8-12 pounds - 3 to 3½ hours
      • 12-14 pounds - 3½ to 4 hours
      • 14-18 pounds - 4 to 4¼ hours
      • 18-20 pounds - 4¼ to 4¾ hours
      • 20-24 pounds - 4¾ to 5¼ hours

*Use about¾ cup of stuffing per pound. The safest practice is to cook stuffing separately, outside of the turkey.

  • Use a metal stem food thermometer with a range of 0°F to 220°F (available at most grocery stores) to take internal temperature (poke thermometer into the thickest center of the product).Do not leave the thermometer in the food while it is cooking. Check the temperature at the end of the cooking process.
  • Pierce an unstuffed turkey with a fork in several places. The juices should be clear with no trace of pink. Smoking turkeys may turn the meat pink, but the juices should still be clear.

Serve It Safe

  • Use a clean plate to transport food to the table.
  • Serve it hot: 130°F or above.
  • Serve it cold: 45°F or below.
  • When reheating leftovers, always reheat them to 165°F or higher. Bring gravy to a rolling boil.

Shellfish (Clams, Mussels, Oysters)

The photo shows oysters, clams, and other shellfish.Buy It/Harvest It Safe

Cook It Safe

  • Boil in the shell
    • Cook live shellfish in boiling water.
    • Continue cooking them for 3 to 5 minutes after the shells open.
  • Steam in the shell
    • Steam live shellfish until the shell opens.
    • Continue steaming for 4 to 9 minutes more.
  • Out of the shell (shucked)
    • Boil or simmer for at least 3 minutes, or until edges curl.
    • Fry in oil at 375°F for at least 3 minutes.
    • Broil 3 inches from heat for 3 minutes.
    • Bake for 10 minutes at 450°F.

Raw Oysters

Although some oysters are treated for safety after they are harvested, the treatment does not remove all the germs and viruses that can cause illness.

Wild Game

The photo shows raw deer meet cuts.Prepare It Safe

You can get many diseases from touching, field dressing, butchering and improperly cooking wild game animals, so follow these guidelines from the American Veterinary Medical Association:

  • Avoid hunting if you are feeling ill, when your immune system may be weakened.
  • Use products to minimize insect bites.
  • Do not handle (or eat) wild game or fowl that appeared ill or acted abnormally before they were killed.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke while cleaning wild fowl or game.
  • Always protect your hands with gloves (heavy rubber, latex, or nitrile) when field dressing wild game or fowl.
  • Do not use the same utensils to clean different species.
  • If there are any old wounds on the carcass, and especially if there is pus present, cut away the meat in this area. Cut away a large area of tissue around the wound and pus pockets. Normal looking tissue can harbor infection.
  • If you see abnormalities in the animal's chest or abdominal cavity, consider disposing of the entire carcass.
  • Minimize contact with brain or spinal tissues. When boning out the carcass, keep both the head and spine intact.
  • Never cut into the head of any antlered animal that showed abnormal behavior before it was killed, even to remove the rack.
  • When removing antlers from a healthy animal, use a hand saw rather than a power saw, and always wear safety glasses.
  • Avoid abdominal shots because they lead to contamination of the meat and can cause the animal needless suffering. Whenever the animal's intestinal contents come into contact with meat, the meat should be considered contaminated and should be cut off and discarded. Do not feed the contaminated meat to your dog or other animals. They may become infected.
  • After you kill the animal with a humane shot, quick removal of the intestines minimizes the risk that the intestines will contaminate the meat.
  • If any of the intestines have an abnormal smell or discharge, or if pockets of blood are seen in the muscle unassociated with the wound inflicted by bullet, shot or arrow, the flesh should be considered unfit for eating.
  • The abdominal cavity should be cleaned, dried and cooled until the meat is processed. During warm weather (over 65°F), place bags of ice in the body cavity to hasten cooling.
  • Protect the carcass from flies.
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer immediately after handling wild game or fowl, including the tissues and meat.
  • Wash tools, equipment and working surfaces (including tables and cutting boards) thoroughly with soap and water, followed by disinfection immediately after handling any wild game or fowl. Adding a minimum of 1 tablespoon of bleach to 1 gallon of water is usually adequate for use as a cleaning/disinfecting solution.
  • If you prepare your own ground meat, thoroughly clean and disinfect all equipment after use.

Cook It Safe

  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked meat.
  • Always cook wild meat until the juices run clear and internal temperature reaches at least 160°F as measured by a meat thermometer.
  • Cook wild birds thoroughly to an internal temperature of at least 165°F or higher.
  • Keep uncooked wild game separate from cooked or ready-to-eat foods to avoid cross contamination.
  • Meat should be properly wrapped and stored on bottom shelves of the refrigerator or freezer to avoid blood dripping on (and potentially contaminating) other foods.
  • Meat should be refrigerated or frozen properly and should not be kept at room temperature.
  • Freezing meat does not necessarily protect against disease.
  • Any uncooked game should be promptly frozen, refrigerated or disposed of properly.
Also see:  the U.S. Department of Agriculture's website on cooking wild game.