6 Common Food Safety Mistakes You May Be Making in the Kitchen

— By Alex Bosse, Nutrition Education Professional for UMaine Cooperative Extension EFNEP (Expanded Food & Nutrition Education Program)

A simple mistake in the kitchen can lead to unwelcome consequences. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases. While most people associate food borne illnesses with eating out at restaurants, dangerous pathogens can easily lurk around the corner in your own kitchen. Below is a list of 6 common food safety mistakes that you may be making in your kitchen and ways to better protect you and your loved ones when preparing food.

1. Not Washing Your Hands

“Wash your hands” We’ve all heard these words so many times throughout our lives from parents, teachers, or loved ones. Despite this, many people do not wash their hands correctly (or at all). A 2023 USDA study showed that participants failed to wash their hands correctly 97% of the time (yikes!). We’ve all been guilty of the quick rinse-and-go when in a hurry, but failing to wash your hands properly can spread germs to food and make you and others sick. For proper hand washing safety, the CDC advises to wet your hands with warm water, lather your hands with soap, scrub thoroughly for at least 20 seconds, rinse, and dry your hands. Proper hand washing is the best line of defense against foodborne illness, and it is important that you wash your hands before, during, and after preparing food, as well as after using the restroom, touching your phone, blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, or playing with pets. Make hand washing a regular habit throughout your day.

2. Washing Raw Poultry

Growing up, some of my relatives would wash raw chicken under running water in the sink before cooking, which would often lead to heated debates from other relatives. While washing raw poultry may seem harmless, it is a sure way to spread harmful germs onto other parts of the sink, countertops, utensils, and other cooking equipment nearby. Raw poultry is ready-to-cook so it doesn’t need to be washed before cooking, and according to the CDC, raw chicken can be contaminated with bacteria such as Campylobacter, Salmonella, or Clostridium perfringens, so skip washing raw poultry prevent you and others from becoming sick.

3. Misusing Cutting Boards or Not Cleaning Cutting Board Properly

Have you ever sliced raw meat on a cutting board to then use that same cutting board to chop vegetables? This is a great example of cross-contamination, or the transfer of harmful bacteria to food from other foods, cutting boards, and utensils. To prevent cross-contamination, it is recommended to use separate, clean boards for different foods such as meat, poultry, seafood, and one for fresh produce. To safely clean cutting boards after using, clean them with hot, soapy water and allow them to air dry after each use. For more information on cutting board safety, visit Cutting Board Safety 101.

4. Thawing Frozen Food Incorrectly

Dinner is approaching fast, and you have a recipe in mind, but some of the ingredients for your recipe are frozen in your freezer. Should you leave them out at room temperature to thaw? Thaw under warm running water? Thaw in a bowl of water on the counter? These are all questions many people have when it comes to properly thawing frozen food, however, thawing food incorrectly can leave the food in the temperature danger zone (41 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit) for too long, where harmful bacteria can grow to harmful levels. Below are the 4 safe ways to thaw frozen food according to the USDA. For more details on each of these thawing methods below, visit The Big Thaw – Safe Defrosting Methods.

  1. Thaw in a cooler or refrigerator.
  2. Thaw under cold water.
  3. Thaw in the microwave.
  4. Thaw as a part of the cooking process.

5. Not Cooking Food to a Safe Internal Cooking Temperatures

When foods are not cooked to recommended minimum internal cooking temperatures, harmful bacteria can multiply and make you sick. While you may think a food is done by giving it a good look, it is always recommended to use a food thermometer to measure doneness. For more information about food thermometers and safe minimum internal cooking temperatures for different types of food, visit In the Kitchen: Safe Minimum Internal Temperatures.

6. Not Rinsing Produce

If you’ve spent enough time in the produce section of the grocery store, you know that people’s hands are all over produce (and that produce often drops to the floor and can spend time in dirty carts if not bagged), not to mention all the excess dirt that can be found on produce too! These are all reasons why rinsing produce before consumption is a good idea, as germs can easily hide on the outer layers of produce. Furthermore, cutting into produce can transfer these germs to the inside part of the fruit or vegetable that you are eating. To properly rinse produce, gently rub under running water and dry off with a clean cloth or paper towel. For produce with a more rough grainy surface like melons, use a clean vegetable scrub brush. According to the FDA, washing fruits and vegetables with soap, detergent, or commercial produce wash is not recommended, as produce is porous, and these products can easily be absorbed by produce.