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Food Safety

Feb. 25, 2021

Safe Handling of Fruits & Vegetables [UCANR #21590]
Avoid Unsafe Food and Water

Food Handling Guidelines

Four core practices to food safety:

  1. CLEAN - Wash hands, utensils and surfaces often. Wash fruits and vegetables, but not meat and poultry. 
  2. SEPARATE - Don't cross-contaminate.
  3. COOK - Cook and Reheat to proper temperatures. Use a food thermometer.
  4. CHILL - Refrigerate promptly.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) BeFoodSave brochure "Four Easy Lessons in Safe Food Handling"  (also available in Spanish) provides a few examples of how you can incorporate these practices into your daily routine.

The following sections, titled: CLEAN, SEPARATE, COOK and CHILL attempt to provide more substance to these four simple words and very brief definitions by looking at why, what and how. Click the links that appear throughout this webpage for more information. References and additional supplemental resources are listed in the More on Food Safety section.

The USDA run a Meat and Poultry Hotline where you can get answers to your food safety questions on weekdays year-round in English and Spanish: 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854)

CLEAN Kitchen & Personal Hygiene

Bacteria can spread throughout the kitchen and get on hands, cutting boards, knives, and countertops. Frequent cleaning can keep that from happening.
Wash hands, utensils, and surface often.

  • Wash hands before, during and after preparing foods.
  • Wash hands after using the restroom, grooming or petting animals.
  • Wash & sanitize all surfaces, cutting boards and other equipment to be used in food preparation.
  • Protect food from pantry pests, pets and insects.

Excerpts from FoodSafety.gov Clean: Wash Hands, Utensils, and Surfaces Often 

Why it matters - Illness-causing bacteria can survive in many places around your kitchen, including your hands, utensils, and cutting boards.  Unless you wash your hands, utensils, and surfaces the right way, you could spread bacteria to your food, and your family.

  • Wash hands the right way—for 20 seconds with soap and running water.  Washing your hands the right way can stop the spread of illness-causing bacteria.
  • Wash surfaces and utensils after each use. Bacteria can be spread throughout the kitchen and get onto cutting boards, utensils, and counter tops.
  • Wash fruits and veggies—but not meat, poultry, or eggs!  Did you know that—even if you plan to peel fruits and veggies—it’s important to wash them first because bacteria can spread from the outside to the inside as you cut or peel them.

Excerpts from University of Rhode Island Food Safety: Sanitizing Solutions

To Sanitize Worksurfaces

  • After each use, especially after working with raw meat, fish or poultry, thoroughly wash with hot water and soap/detergent and rinse with warm water.
  • Use a sanitizing solution of 1 teaspoon of liquid chlorine bleach to one gallon of warm water (at least 75°F) (200 ppm solution) with clean wiping cloth. (Note: solution should be changed often). Wiping cloths should be kept in the sanitizing solution.
    Warning: Concentrations higher than necessary can create a safety hazard, cause taste and odor problems, corrode metals and other materials and leave residues.
  • Air dry.

Excerpts from Okalahoma State Food Technology Fact Sheet Guidelines for the Use of Chlorine Bleach as a Sanitizer in Food Processing Operations

Some considerations when using chlorine bleach as a sanitizer: Any chlorine bleach that is used for making a sanitizing solution, whether for equipment or raw produce, must be of sufficient purity to be categorized as a “food grade” substance. Some commercially available household chlorine bleaches contain fragrances, thickeners and/or other additives not approved for food use. These products are not suitable for making sanitizing solutions.

Jump to [Top of page]  [CLEAN]  [SEPARATE]  [COOK]  [CHILL]  [More]

SEPARATE to Avoid Cross-Contamination

Cross-contamination is how bacteria spreads. Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood and their juices away from ready-to-eat food.
Don't cross-contaminate.

  • Keep raw meats and seafood separate from other foods.
  • Use separate cutting boards and utensils to prepare meats, fruits & vegetables, and prepared foods.
  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect surfaces in contact with raw foods. 

Excerpts from FSIS.UDSA.gov Be Smart. Keep Foods Apart. Don't Cross-Contaminate.

Cross-contamination is the transfer of harmful bacteria to food from other foods, cutting boards, utensils, etc., if they are not handled properly. This is especially true when handling raw meat, poultry, and seafood, so keep these foods and their juices away from already cooked or ready-to-eat foods and fresh produce.
You can prevent cross-contamination and reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

When Shopping: Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other foods in your grocery-shopping cart. Place these foods in plastic bags to prevent their juices from dripping onto other foods. It is also best to separate these foods from other foods at check out and in your grocery bags.

When Refrigerating Food: Place raw meat, poultry, and seafood in containers or sealed plastic bags to prevent their juices from dripping onto other foods. Raw juices often contain harmful bacteria.
Store eggs in their original carton and refrigerate as soon as possible.

When Preparing Food: Wash hands and surfaces often. Harmful bacteria can spread throughout the kitchen and get onto cutting boards, utensils, and counter tops. To prevent this:

  • Wash hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before and after handling food, and after using the bathroom, changing diapers; or handling pets.
  • Use hot, soapy water and paper towels or clean cloths to wipe up kitchen surfaces or spills. Wash cloths often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.
  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, and counter tops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next item.
  • A solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water may be used to sanitize surfaces and utensils.

Always use a clean cutting board. If possible, use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.

Marinating Food: Always marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter.
Sauce that is used to marinate raw meat, poultry, or seafood should not be used on cooked foods, unless it is boiled just before using.

When Serving Food: Always use a clean plate.
Never place cooked food back on the same plate or cutting board that previously held raw food.

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COOK & Reheat Foods Adequately

Even for experienced cooks, the improper heating and preparation of food means bacteria can survive.
Use a food thermometer.

  • Cook raw foods thoroughly to the recommended minimum internal temperature and rest time, especially meat, seafood, eggs and poultry.

  • Reheat cooked foods and leftovers thoroughly.
  • Bring foods like soups and stews to boiling to make sure that they have reached 212ºF.

Excerpt from FoodSafety.gov Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures Charts
Follow the guidelines below for minimum cooking temperatures and rest time for meat, poultry, seafood, and other cooked foods. Be sure to use a food thermometer to check whether meat has reached a safe internal temperature that is hot enough to kill harmful germs that cause food poisoning.

Food Type Internal Temperature (°F)
Ground meat and meat mixtures Beef, pork, veal, lamb 160
Turkey, chicken 165
Fresh beef, veal, lamb Steaks, roasts, chops
Rest time: 3 minutes
Poultry All Poultry (breasts, whole bird, legs, thighs, wings, ground poultry, giblets, and stuffing) <165
Pork and ham Fresh pork, including fresh ham
Rest time: 3 minutes
Precooked ham (to reheat)
Note: Reheat cooked hams packaged in USDA-inspected plants to 140°F
Eggs and egg dishes Eggs Cook until yolk and white are firm
Egg dishes (such as frittata, quiche) 160
Leftovers and casseroles Leftovers and casseroles 165
Seafood Fish with fins 145 or cook until flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork
Shrimp, lobster, crab, and scallops Cook until flesh is pearly or white, and opaque
Clams, oysters, mussels Cook until shells open during cooking

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CHILL to Keep Foods at Safe Temperatures

Bacteria spreads fastest at temperatures between 40°F -140°F, so chilling food properly is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.
Chill food promptly

  • Refrigerate promptly. Do not leave cooked food and leftovers at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
  • Keep food out of the danger zone, between 40°F and 140° F.
  • Refrigerate food below 40°F.
  • Consider purchasing thermometers for your refrigerator and freezer.

Excerpts from FSIS.USDA.gov How Temperatures Affect Food

Bacteria exist everywhere in nature. They are in the soil, air, water and the foods we eat. When bacteria have nutrients (food), moisture, time and favorable temperatures, they grow rapidly, increasing in numbers to the point where some can cause illness. Understanding the important role temperature plays in keeping food safe is critical.

The "Danger Zone" (40 °F-140 °F)
Bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 40 ° and 140 °F, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes. This range of temperatures is often called the "Danger Zone." That's why the Meat and Poultry Hotline [1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854)] advises consumers to never leave food out of refrigeration over 2 hours. If the temperature is above 90 °F, food should not be left out more than 1 hour.

If you are traveling with cold food, bring a cooler packed with plenty of ice, frozen gel packs or another cold source.
It is difficult to keep foods hot without a heat source when traveling, so it's best to cook foods before leaving home, cool them, and transport them cold.

If raw meat and poultry have been handled safely, using the above preparation recommendations will make them safe to eat. If raw meats have been mishandled (left in the "Danger Zone" too long), bacteria may grow and produce toxins which can cause foodborne illness. Those toxins that are heat resistant are not destroyed by cooking. Therefore, even though cooked, meat and poultry mishandled in the raw state may not be safe to eat even after proper preparation.

Excerpts from FSIS.USDA.gov Leftovers and Food Safety

Cool Food Rapidly
To prevent bacterial growth, it's important to cool food rapidly so it reaches as fast as possible the safe refrigerator-storage temperature of 40° F or below. To do this, divide large amounts of food into shallow containers. A big pot of soup, for example, will take a long time to cool, inviting bacteria to multiply and increasing the danger of foodborne illness. Instead, divide the pot of soup into smaller containers so it will cool quickly... or rapidly chill in an ice or cold water bath before refrigerating.

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More on Food Safety

There are numerous publications, videos and web pages about food safety. Explore some of these:

Fight foodborne BACteria Download and print the FightBAC! brochure (available in Spanish) from www.fightbac.org for a handy quick reference.

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