Handling food safely
When you prepare food for yourself and your family, use these tips to help ensure that it's safe to eat.
What's the best way to clean food?
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food.
- Wash all fruits and vegetables. Use a scrub brush. If you can’t get the skin clean, peel it off. This can help remove dirt and chemicals, like pesticides. A pesticide is a chemical used to keep bugs and other pests away from crops. Wash all fruits and vegetables, even if the package says it’s already been washed. Dry everything with a paper towel or clean cloth.
- Remove and throw away the outer leaves of leafy green vegetables, like lettuce and spinach.
- Cut away damaged sections of fruits and vegetables.
- Wash utensils and cutting boards with hot soapy water after each use. Don’t use cutting boards made of wood. They can hold more germs than other kinds of cutting boards.
- After preparing food, clean countertops with hot soapy water.
What's the best way to separate food?
- Use one cutting board for raw meat, poultry and seafood. Use a different board for fruits and vegetables.
- When you’re shopping, keep raw meat, poultry and seafood and their juices separate from other foods.
- Store raw meat, poultry and seafood in containers so that their juices don’t get on other foods.
What's the best way to cook food?
- Use a food thermometer. It can help you cook food—especially meat—to a safe temperature. You may not be able to tell if a food is fully cooked by how it looks, so use these temperature guidelines:
You can buy a thermometer at the grocery store or at home-supply stores where cooking products are sold.
- When using the microwave, cover the food. Stop cooking to stir the food and rotate the dish to ensure the food’s warm all the way through.
- When reheating sauces, soups and gravies, bring them to a rolling boil.
What's the best way to chill food?
- Keep the refrigerator at 40 F or below and the freezer at 0 F or below. If you don’t think your temperature is correct, use an appliance thermometer to check it. You can buy this kind of thermometer at hardware or home-supply stores.
- Refrigerate all fruits and vegetables that have been cut or peeled.
- Refrigerate all leftovers within 2 hours after eating. Use shallow containers so that the food cools quickly. When you’re ready to use the leftovers, eat them within 2 hours of taking them out of the refrigerator.
- Thaw meat, poultry and seafood in the refrigerator, not on the counter or in the sink.
- Don't crowd the refrigerator. This may make it hard to keep food cool and safe.
Last reviewed: August, 2012