Preventing Food Poisoning

Food safety can help you prevent food poisoning. Tips for shopping, storing, preparing and serving food are identified below. 

Shopping for food

  • Buy meats that are cold and tightly wrapped. 

  • Check eggs - do not buy cartons with cracked or broken eggs. 

  • Avoid cans with bulges, leaks or dents. Make sure lids and seals are not broken. 

  • If a product looks or smells bad - DO NOT taste it. 

  • Put refrigerated/frozen foods in your grocery cart last so they do not warm up while you shop. 

  • Keep meat and chicken away from other foods in your cart. Place these foods in plastic bags to keep juices from leaking out. 

  • If you travel more than one hour to get home - bring a cooler for food that could spoil. Make the store the last stop before heading home. 

Storing foods

  • Set your refrigerator at 40 degrees F or colder and your freezer at 0 degrees F or colder. 

  • Put meat, chicken and dairy products in the refrigerator right away after returning from the grocery store. 

  • If you are not going to use meats within a few days, place them in the freezer. Wrap meats tightly in aluminum foil or freezer wrap. 

  • Use fresh or thawed meats as soon as possible. 

Preparing foods

  • Defrost foods in the refrigerator. If you must thaw in a hurry, do so in a watertight plastic bag and put in cool water. Never thaw food uncovered on a kitchen counter at room temperature. 

  • Cook food right away after thawing. 

  • Keep hands, utensils, cutting boards and sinks clean. Bacteria are easily spread by contaminated surfaces. 

  • Clean cutting boards often with a bleach solution. Mix 2 teaspoonfuls of household bleach and 1 quart of warm water. Make sure to label the container. Use the mixture to clean the boards then rinse them under cool running water. Plastic cutting boards are the best for meats. Do not use the same board to cut bread, produce or cooked meats. 

  • Always wash hands well with soapy water before, during and after preparing foods. 

  • Do not place foods on the same plate or surface that held raw meat or chicken. 

  • Wash the surface and utensils that have touched meat or chicken before using them to prepare other foods. 

  • Thoroughly cook meat, chicken and fish. 

How to tell when foods are fully cooked

  • Ground Beef: Cook ground beef to at least 160° F (71° C). Use a food thermometer to check. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention link eating under-cooked pink ground beef with a higher risk of illness. If a thermometer is not available, do not eat ground beef that is still pink inside. 

  • Meat and Poultry: Cook roasts and steaks to an internal temperature of at least 145° F (63° C).  Whole poultry should be cooked to 180° F (82° C) - measure the temperature in the thigh. Chicken breasts should be cooked to 170° F (77° C). 

  • Seafood: Cook fish until the flesh is opaque and flakes easily with a fork. 

  • Eggs: Cook eggs until the yolks and whites are firm. Don't use recipes in which eggs remain raw or partially cooked, unless you use pasteurized eggs. 

  • Leftovers: Leftovers should be reheated to 165° F (74° C). Bring sauces, soups, and gravies to a boil. 

Microwave cooking and thawing

  • Cover food with plastic wrap or a glass covering and add a little liquid to food. This creates steam, which readily kills pathogens. 

  • To ensure uniform heating, turn the dish several times during cooking. 

  • Stir soups and stews periodically during reheating to ensure even heating. 

  • When cooking is done, make sure the food is hot and steaming. Use a food thermometer and test the food in two or three different areas to verify that it has reached a safe internal temperature. 

  • When defrosting food in the microwave, cook the food immediately. When you thaw food in the microwave, some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during the defrosting process. The internal temperature of the food probably hasn't reached the temperature needed to destroy bacteria and, indeed, may have reached optimal temperatures for bacteria to grow. So don't let the food sit in the danger zone!

Serving food

  • Never leave cooked foods at room temperature for longer than two hours. If the room is warm, do not leave cooked foods out longer than one hour. 

  • Put leftovers in the refrigerator right away. Do not wait for foods to cool down first. 

  • To re-heat leftovers, cover and heat to 165 F. Use leftovers in 3-4 days. 

Return to the Safety Resource Center