Food Safety When Cooking

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When preparing foods, follow four basic steps—clean, separate, cook, and chill.

Clean

washing vegetablesWash your hands and the counter with hot soapy water, and make sure your utensils are clean before you start to prepare food. Clean the lids of cans before opening. Rinse fruits and vegetables under running water, but do not use soap or detergent. Do not rinse raw meat or poultry before cooking—you might contaminate other things by splashing disease-causing microbes around without realizing it.

Keep your refrigerator clean, especially the vegetable and meat bins. When there is a spill, use hot soapy water to clean it up.

7 Tips for Cleaning Fruits, Vegetables

Watch this U.S. Food and Drug Administration video to learn tips for making sure the produce you serve is safe.

Separate

elderly man with shopping cartKeep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs (and their juices and shells) away from foods that won’t be cooked. That begins in your grocery cart—put raw vegetables and fruit in one part of the cart, maybe the top part.

Things like meat should be put in the plastic bags the store offers and placed in a separate part of the cart. At check-out, make sure the raw meat and seafood aren’t mixed with other items in your bags.

When you get home, keep things like raw meat separate from fresh fruit and vegetables (even in your refrigerator). Don’t let the raw meat juices drip on foods that won’t be cooked before they are eaten.

cleaning a counter with gloves and a towelWhen you are cooking, it is also important to keep ready-to-eat foods like fresh produce or bread apart from food that will be cooked. Make sure your hands, counter, and cutting boards are clean before you begin. Use a different knife and cutting board for fresh produce than you use for raw meat, poultry, and seafood. Or, use one set, and cut all the fresh produce before handling foods that will be cooked.

Wash your utensils and cutting board in hot soapy water or the dishwasher, and clean the counter and your hands afterwards. If you put raw meat, poultry, or seafood on a plate, wash the plate in hot soapy water before reusing it for cooked food.

Cook

roast turkey in a pan with a meat thermometer in itUse a food thermometer, put in the thickest part of the food you are cooking, to check that the inside has reached the right temperature. The chart below shows what the temperature inside food should be before you stop cooking it. No more runny fried eggs or hamburgers that are pink in the middle.

Bring sauces, marinades, soups, and gravy to a boil when reheating.

Here's a Tip

Why is it safe for my steak to be pink in the middle, but not my hamburger? When meat is ground to make hamburger, bacteria can be spread throughout the meat. A higher cooking temperature is needed to kill the bacteria inside. But, in a solid piece of meat, any possible bacteria remain on the outer surface where they are killed more quickly.

 

U.S. Department of Agriculture-Recommended Safe Minimum Internal Temperatures
All meats and seafood 145 °F
(with a 3-minute rest time)
All ground meats 160 °F
Egg dishes 160 °F
All poultry 165 °F
Hot dogs and luncheon meats 165 °F

No matter what temperature you set your oven at, the temperature inside your food needs to reach the level shown here to be safe.

Chill

Keeping foods cold slows the growth of microbes, so your refrigerator should always be at 40 °F or below. The freezer should be at 0 °F or below. But just because you set the thermostat for 40 °F doesn't mean it actually reaches that temperature. Use refrigerator/freezer thermometers to check.

Put food in the refrigerator within 2 hours of buying or cooking it. If the outside temperature is over 90 °F, refrigerate within 1 hour. Put leftovers in a clean, shallow container that is covered and dated. Use or freeze leftovers within 3 to 4 days. For recommended refrigerator and freezer storage times for common foods, download our Storing Cold Food tip sheet (PDF, 75K).

What's On Your Plate? is based on the nutrition recommendations for older adults in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).