Bulletin #4107, Basics for Handling Food Safely
Food Safety Facts
Basics for Handling Food Safely
Reprinted with permission from USDA.
Safe steps in food handling, cooking, and storage are essential to prevent foodborne illness. You can’t see, smell or taste harmful bacteria that may cause illness. In every step of food preparation, follow the four Fight BAC!™ guidelines to keep food safe:
- Clean—Wash hands and surfaces often.
- Separate—Don’t cross-contaminate.
- Cook—Cook to proper temperatures.
- Chill—Refrigerate promptly.
- Purchase refrigerated or frozen items after selecting your non-perishables.
- Never choose meat or poultry in packaging that is torn or leaking.
- Do not buy food past “Sell-By,” “Use-By,” or other expiration dates.
- Put raw meat and poultry into a plastic bag so meat juices will not cross-contaminate ready-to-eat food or food that is eaten raw, such as vegetables or fruit.
- Plan to drive directly home from the grocery store. You may want to take a cooler with ice for the perishables.
- Always refrigerate perishable food within two hours. Refrigerate within one hour when the temperature is above 90°F.
- Check the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer with an appliance thermometer. The refrigerator should be at40°F or below and the freezer at 0°F or below.
- Cook or freeze fresh poultry, fish, ground meats and variety meats within two days; other beef, veal, lamb or pork, within three to five days.
- Perishable food such as meat and poultry should be wrapped securely to maintain quality and to prevent meat juices from getting onto other food.
- To maintain quality when freezing meat and poultry in its original package, wrap the package again with foil or plastic wrap that is recommended for the freezer.
- In general, high-acid canned food such as tomatoes, grapefruit and pineapple can be stored on the shelf for 12 to 18 months. Low-acid canned food such as meat, poultry, fish and most vegetables will keep two to five years—if the can remains in good condition and has been stored in a cool, clean, and dry place. Discard cans that are dented, leaking, bulging, or rusted.
- Always wash hands before and after handling food.
- Don’t cross-contaminate. Keep raw meat, poultry, fish and their juices away from other food. After cutting raw meats, wash hands, cutting board, knife and countertops with hot, soapy water.
- Marinate meat and poultry in a covered dish in the refrigerator.
- Sanitize cutting boards by using a solution of one teaspoon chlorine bleach in one quart of water.
- Refrigerator: The refrigerator allows slow, safe thawing. Make sure thawing meat and poultry juices do not drip onto other food.
- Cold Water: For faster thawing, place food in a leak-proof plastic bag. Submerge in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes. Cook immediately after thawing.
- Microwave: Cook meat and poultry immediately after microwave thawing.
- Cook ground meats to 160°F; ground poultry to 165°F, ground pork to 160°F.
- Beef, veal, and lamb steaks, roasts, and chops may be cooked to 145°F; cuts of fresh pork, 145°F.
- Whole poultry should reach 180°F in the thigh; breasts, 170°F.
- Hot food should be held at 140°F or warmer.
- Cold food should be held at 40°F or colder.
- When serving food at a buffet, keep food hot with chafing dishes, slow cookers and warming trays. Keep food cold by nesting dishes in bowls of ice or use small serving trays and replace them often.
- Perishable food should not be left out more than two hours at room temperature (one hour when the temperature is above 90°F).
- Discard any food left out at room temperature for more than two hours (one hour if the temperature was above 90°F).
- Place food into shallow containers and immediately put in the refrigerator or freezer for rapid cooling.
- Use cooked leftovers within four days.
- Meat and poultry defrosted in the refrigerator may be refrozen before or after cooking. If thawed by other methods, cook before refreezing.
Cold Storage Chart
These short, but safe, time limits will help keep refrigerated food from spoiling or becoming dangerous to eat. Because freezing keeps food safe indefinitely, recommended storage times are for quality only.
|Product||Refrigerator (40°F)||Freezer (0°F)|
|Fresh, in shell||3 to 5 weeks||Do not freeze|
|Raw yolks & whites||2 to 4 days||1 year|
|Hard cooked||1 week||Does not freeze well|
|Liquid pasteurized eggs, egg substitutes|
|–opened||3 days||Does not freeze well|
|–unopened||10 days||1 year|
|Commercial, refrigerate after opening||2 months||Do not freeze|
|Frozen dinners & Entrees|
|Keep frozen until ready to heat||3 to 4 months|
|Deli & Vacuum-Packed Products|
|Store-prepared (or homemade) egg, chicken, ham, tuna, and macaroni salads|
|3 to 5 days||Does not freeze well|
|Hot dogs & Luncheon Meats|
|–opened package||1 week||1 to 2 months|
|–unopened package||2 weeks||1 to 2 months|
|–opened package||3 to 5 days||1 to 2 months|
|–unopened package||2 weeks||1 to 2 months|
|Bacon & Sausage|
|Bacon||7 days||1 month|
|Sausage, raw—from chicken, turkey, pork, beef||1 to 2 days||1 to 2 months|
|Smoked breakfast links, patties||7 days||1 to 2 months|
|Hard sausage—pepperoni, jerky sticks||2 to 3 weeks||1 to 2 months|
|Summer sausage—labeled “Keep Refrigerated”|
|–opened||3 weeks||1 to 2 months|
|–unopened||3 months||1 to 2 months|
|Ham, Corned Beef|
|Corned beef, in pouch with pickling juices||5 to 7 days||Drained, 1 month|
|Ham, canned—labeled “Keep Refrigerated”|
|–opened||3 to 5 days||1 to 2 months|
|–unopened||6 to 9 months||Do not freeze|
|Fully cooked, vacuum sealed at plant, unopened|
|–undated||2 weeks||1 to 2 months|
|–dated||“Use-By” date on package||1 to 2 months|
|–whole||7 days||1 to 2 months|
|–half||3 to 5 days||1 to 2 months|
|–slices||3 to 4 days||1 to 2 months|
|Hamburger, Ground & Stew Meat|
|Hamburger & stew meat||1 to 2 days||3 to 4 months|
|Ground turkey, veal, pork, lamb, & mixtures of them||1 to 2 days||3 to 4 months|
|Fresh Beef, Veal, Lamb, Pork|
|Steaks||3 to 5 days||6 to 12 months|
|Chops||3 to 5 days||4 to 6 months|
|Roasts||3 to 5 days||4 to 12 months|
|Variety meats—tongue, liver, heart, kidneys, chitterlings||1 to 2 days||3 to 4 months|
|Pre-stuffed, uncooked pork chops, lamb chops, or chicken breasts stuffed with dressing|
|1 day||Does not freeze well|
|Soups & Stews|
|Vegetable or meat added||3 to 4 days||2 to 3 months|
|Cooked Meat Leftovers|
|Cooked meat & meat casseroles||3 to 4 days||2 to 3 months|
|Gravy & meat broth||1 to 2 days||2 to 3 months|
|Chicken or turkey, whole||1 to 2 days||1 year|
|Chicken or turkey, pieces||1 to 2 days||9 months|
|Giblets||1 to 2 days||3 to 4 months|
|Cooked Poultry Leftovers|
|Fried chicken||3 to 4 days||4 months|
|Cooked poultry casseroles||3 to 4 days||4 to 6 months|
|Pieces, plain||3 to 4 days||4 months|
|Pieces covered with broth, gravy||1 to 2 days||6 months|
|Chicken nuggets, patties||1 to 2 days||1 to 3 months|
|Pizza, cooked||3 to 4 days||1 to 2 months|
|Stuffing, cooked||3 to 4 days||1 month|
For more information about food safety, call USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-800-535-4555 or contact your University of Maine Cooperative Extension county office.
Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.
© 2003, 2011
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