Preventing the Spread of Bacteria
Good personal hygiene is the most important part of preventing foodborne illness. Cleanliness will help prevent any cross-contamination that might occur when food touches kitchen surfaces or other food products.
Wash your hands, utensils, and food preparation surfaces with hot, soapy water before and after handling food, especially if you are working with raw meat. Be sure to wash your hands after using the bathroom, since several kinds of bacteria--such as E. coli--can be spread through contact with feces.
Fresh vegetables and fruits should be washed and scrubbed thoroughly before being eaten or cooked. Wash your hands between touching raw meat and other foods.
To clean up drips and spills, use paper towels that can be thrown away. If you prefer to use cloth towels, wash them frequently in your washing machine's hot cycle.
At the grocery store and in your refrigerator, keep raw foods away from other foods and ready-to-eat products. Make sure that raw meat is bagged separately in case of leaks. Store raw food in pans or sealed containers in your refrigerator to prevent cross-contamination.
Use separate cutting boards and utensils for uncooked products. Keep raw meat separated from produce, cooked food, and other food products. Wash your hands, utensils and other kitchen tools, and counters before and after working with uncooked food.
Once food has been cooked, put it on a clean plate. Do not return cooked food to a plate that has held raw food, especially meat.
Some bacteria--including Salmonella and E. coli--can be killed by cooking food at 160° Fahrenheit for fifteen seconds. However, certain methods of cooking--such as using a frying pan--may not be completely effective. If all parts of the food do not reach 160°F, not all the bacteria may be killed.
To make sure that any harmful bacteria is killed:
- Cook ground meat products, eggs, fish, meat, or foods containing these items to a minimum internal temperature of 155°F for at least fifteen seconds.
- Cook poultry to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F for at least fifteen seconds.
- Reheat previously cooked foods to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F.
These recommendations are the minimum temperatures and times required to kill bacteria; they will not cook the food completely. Make sure that meat and foods containing meat are cooked thoroughly before you eat them.
Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of meat dishes. Food color does not indicate whether the food is completely cooked.
When cooking in a microwave oven, check that the food is heated all the way through. To make sure the food heats evenly, cover the dish to hold heat in, and stir the food occasionally. If the microwave has no turntable, rotate the dish by hand once or twice during cooking.
When recipes call for raw eggs, use pasteurized egg products. Eggs are cooked completely when the yolk and white are firm. Avoid recipes that call for the eggs to remain raw or only partially cooked.
Proper food storage helps prevent foodborne illness. Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods as soon as you get them home.
Keep frozen foods in the freezer until you are ready to cook them. If you're not storing food in its original packaging, wrap the food tightly in sealed bags or containers to prevent freezer burn.
Frozen food should be thawed in the refrigerator, in the microwave, or under cold running water. Do not let meat thaw on the kitchen counter! Frozen food can also be thawed as part of the cooking process.
Do not leave cooked food at room temperature for more than two hours. If you are not sure how long the food has been sitting out, throw it away. Separate leftovers into small containers so that they cool more quickly in the refrigerator. Clean out your refrigerator occasionally to prevent cross-contamination from spoiled food.
Adapted and excerpted from:
"Safe Food Handling," Partnership for Food Safety Education (2010).
Related Sites & Articles
- Hot Topics
- Grill Safety
- Hand Washing
- Preventing E. coli Infections
- Salmonella Infections
- Turkey Food Safety
- UF/IFAS Publications
- Foodborne Illness
- UF/IFAS Sites
- National Food Safety Database
- Other Sites & Publications
- Fight BAC!--Partnership for Food Safety Education
- Food Safety in All Seasons--Partnership for Food Safety Education
- Food Safety Tips: For Fall and Winter Holidays--FDACS
- Handling Food Safely on the Road--FSIS/USDA
- Holiday or Party Buffets--FSIS/USDA
- Meat & Poultry Hotline--USDA
- Multistate Foodborne Outbreaks--CDC