Bulletin #4214, General Food Safety Tips for Preparing Food

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Food Safety Facts

father and son wash vegetables

Jason Bolton, Ph.D. Assistant Extension Professor for Food Safety, University of Maine Cooperative Extension. Beth Calder Ph.D., Extension Food Science Specialist & Assistant Professor, Department of Food Science & Human Nutrition University of Maine.

For information about UMaine Extension programs and resources, visit extension.umaine.edu.
Find more of our publications and books at extension.umaine.edu/publications/.

This fact sheet is intended to help prevent foodborne illness when preparing and serving food at home.

Keep it Clean

  • Properly wash your hands before and after handling food. This step is the first line of food-safety defense. Hands should be washed with warm soapy water for 20 seconds (sing happy birthday twice) and rinsed thoroughly.
  • Hand sanitizing gel (at least 60% alcohol), foam or wipes can be used for quick sanitation, but these products are not designed to replace hand washing because sanitizers do not adequately remove all bacteria, dirt, and debris.  When hands are dirty, hand sanitizers are not effective.
  • WASH all food contact surfaces with hot soapy water before and after they touch food, including utensils, counters, cutting boards, and sinks.
  • Consider using paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces.
    • If you choose to use cloth towels, wash them often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.
  • Rinse the surface of fresh fruit and vegetables under tap water, including bagged ready-to-eat salads.

Do Not Cross-Contaminate

Cross-contamination can transfer bacteria from raw to cooked foods and can increase the risk of foodborne illness.

  • Be aware that raw meat, poultry, and seafood can drip from food packages. KEEP RAW JUICES AWAY FROM OTHER FOODS—in the refrigerator and on cutting boards and counters.
    • Use different utensils and cutting boards for each of the following items: meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, and fruits/vegetables.
    • Wash your hands after handling eggs.
  • Never place cooked food on a surface or plate that previously held raw meat, poultry or eggs.

Cook to Proper Temperatures

In order to ensure food safety, foods need to be cooked to recommended internal cooking temperatures to kill harmful bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. (Please, see table below.)

  • Use a food thermometer to measure the internal temperature of cooked, meat, poultry, egg, and fish dishes to ensure that the food is cooked to a proper internal temperature.
  • Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm, not runny. Do not use recipes that only partially cook eggs. Do not use raw eggs in a recipe that does not involve a heating step; pasteurized eggs are a safer option.
  • Bring sauces, soups, and gravy to a boil when reheating.
  • Heat other leftovers thoroughly to 165°F.
  • See the table below for proper internal cooking temperatures.
FoodSafe Internal Temperatures
Beef, veal, and lamb steaks and roasts145°F
Fish and shellfish145°F
Pork (cuts)145°F
Ground meat (beef, veal, pork, sausages, and lamb)160°F
Egg dishes160°F
Chicken, turkey, duck (whole, pieces, and ground)165°F
Ham (fresh or smoked, uncooked)145°F
Ham (fully cooked)USDA inspected:140°F
All others: 165°F

The best way to check the internal temperature of a meat patty is to insert the meat thermometer halfway into the side of the patty.

illustration showing a meat patty with meat thermometer inserted halfway into the side

Cool or Freeze Foods

  • Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods quickly because cold temperatures slow the growth of harmful bacteria.
  • The refrigerator should be kept at a constant 40° F or below.
  • Do not over-fill the refrigerator because cold air must circulate to help keep food properly chilled.
  • The freezer temperature should be 0° F or below.
  • To ensure refrigerator and freezer temperatures remain accurate, use thermometers.
  • Refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, and other perishables as soon as you get them home from the store.
  • Never let raw meat, poultry, eggs, cooked food or cut fresh fruits or vegetables sit at room temperature for more than two hours before putting them in the refrigerator or freezer (one hour or less when temperatures are above 90° F).
  • Never defrost food at room temperature. These three methods are safe for defrosting frozen foods:
    • Submerging food in cold water (50° F or below).
    • Place food in the refrigerator.
    • Microwave, but foods should be immediately cooked after defrosting.
  • Refreezing: Meat and poultry products that are defrosted in the refrigerator may be refrozen before or after cooking. If thawed using a microwave or cold water, then you must fully cook the meat or poultry product before refreezing.

References and Further Resources

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.

© 2012

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