One in six Americans will suffer from food poisoning this year. This harms your customers and your reputation. Follow these four simple steps from FoodSafety.gov every time you cook.

  1. Clean
  2. Separate
  3. Cook
  4. Chill

Clean

We use our hands for everything, and harmful bacteria and viruses are everywhere. Be sure you and your employees are washing your hands the right way before and after handling foods, using the restroom, etc. It only takes 20 seconds, using soap and running water.

  • Wet your hands with warm or cold running water
  • Rub your hands together to work the soap into a lather and scrub well including the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Keep rubbing for at least 20 seconds.
  • Rinse thoroughly under running water.
  • Dry with a clean towel or air dry.

You also need to wash any surfaces and utensils after each use. Bacteria can lurk on cutting boards, utensils, and counter tops. Wiping up spills and washing between uses helps keep your kitchen clean and your customers’ safe.

  • Use paper towels or clean cloths on kitchen surfaces and spills. Be sure to wash cloths often in the hot cycle of a washing machine.
  • Between preparing one food item and moving on to the next, wash any cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with hot, soapy water.
  • To sanitize washed surfaces and utensils use a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented liquid chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water.

You can and should wash your fruits and vegetables. Bacteria can spread from the outside to the inside as you cut or peel the fruit or vegetable. Therefore, even if you plan to peel it, wash it. Take these steps to wash your produce effectively:

  1. Cut away damaged or bruised areas
  2. Rinse under running water. Only use water.
  3. Scrub produce with a tough skin, like a melon or cucumber, with a clean produce brush
  4. Dry with a paper towel or clean cloth.

You should not wash meat, poultry, or eggs. Juices may splash from the raw meat or poultry and contaminate your sink and countertops. Commercial eggs are washed before sale. Extra handling of eggs might crack the egg and increase cross-contamination risks.

Separate

Washing alone will not stop the spread of illness-causing bacteria. Separation of certain foods helps prevent dangerous cross contamination. Don’t place ready to eat food on a surface that just held raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs. Additionally, use different surfaces for produce and for meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs.

  • Designate one cutting board for fresh produce, one for raw meat, one for poultry, and one for seafood. Many brands now sell multi-colored cutting board sets for this purpose.
  • Use separate plates and utensils for cooked foods and for raw foods.
  • Thoroughly wash plates, utensils, and cutting boards that held raw foods before using them again
  • Replace cutting boards with hard to clean grooves or really worn out.

When refrigerating your foods, practice separation as well. Juices from raw foods can drip onto ready-to-eat foods and spread bacteria in your refrigeration.

  • Place raw foods into containers or sealed bags to prevent any juices from leaking and dripping onto other foods.
  • If raw foods are not being used within a few days, freeze them instead.
  • Keep eggs in their original carton. Store them in the main compartment, not on the door of the refrigerator.

Cook

After washing and separating appropriately, it’s time to cook your food. Meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, casseroles, and leftovers all have a safe minimum cooking temperature. Some even have a required rest time for the temperature to remain constant or continue rising and destroy harmful germs.

You cannot tell whether meat is safely cooked just by looking at it. Some meats can be cooked to their safe internal temperature and still be pink. To accurately measure your food temperature, buy a food thermometer. Remember to clean it with hot, soapy water after each use, to prevent any cross contamination.

Here is the Minimum Cooking Temperatures Chart direct from FoodSafety.gov.

Category

Food

Temperature (°F) 

Rest Time 

Ground Meat & Meat Mixtures

Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb

160

None

Turkey, Chicken

165

None

Fresh Beef, Veal, Lamb

Steaks, roasts, chops

145

3 minutes

Poultry

Chicken & Turkey, whole

165

None

Poultry breasts, roasts

165

None

Poultry thighs, legs, wings

165

None

Duck & Goose

165

None

Stuffing (cooked alone or in bird)

165

None

Pork and Ham

Fresh pork

145

3 minutes

Fresh ham (raw)

145

3 minutes

Precooked ham (to reheat)

140

None

Eggs & Egg Dishes

Eggs

Cook until yolk and white are firm

None

Egg dishes

160

None

Leftovers & Casseroles

Leftovers

165

None

Casseroles

165

None

Seafood

Fin Fish

145 or cook until flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork.

None

Shrimp, lobster, and crabs

Cook until flesh is pearly and opaque.

None

Clams, oysters, and mussels

Cook until shells open during cooking.

None

Scallops

Cook until flesh is milky white or opaque and firm.

None

 

The bacteria that causes food poisoning thrives when food is in the danger zone of 40°F to 140°F. The chart above illustrates the minimum internal temperature needed to kill harmful bacteria. However, your food needs to maintain that temperature or a temperature of at least 140°F. Use a heat source like a chafing dish, warming tray, or slow cooker.

Not all of your cooking may happen on a stovetop or an oven. If you use grills or smokers, you’ll want to follow the special guidelines from the FDA and USDA.

Chill

Perishable foods need to be refrigerated within two hours to prevent the growth of illness-causing bacteria. Cold temperatures outside of the danger zone slow the growth of these bacteria. That’s why it’s key to chill food promptly and properly.

  • Organize your refrigerator carefully. Cold air needs to circulate in your fridge. Overstuffing will prevent an even air flow.
  • Keep your fridge between 32°F and 40°F. Many commercial refrigerators come with temperature monitor controls and displays.
  • Store perishable foods in a refrigerator or freezer within two hours. In the summer, do this within 1 hour.
  • Leftovers should be stored within 2 hours as well. Divide leftovers into multiple clean, shallow containers to chill faster.

You can also freeze perishable foods. Freezing will not destroy the bacteria, but it will keep the food safe until you can cook it. Keep your freezer at or below 0°F.

If you are marinating or thawing foods, do not leave the food on the counter. It is a huge risk considering bacteria can multiply rapidly at room temperature. Always marinate food in the refrigerator. When thawing, choose one of the options below:

  • Thaw in the refrigerator. This is the safest method for thawing meat, poultry, and seafood. Remove the food from the freezer, place it on a plate or in a pan that can catch leaking juices, and refrigerate. Typically, it will be thawed and ready to use the next day.
  • Thaw in cold water. This faster method requires a watertight plastic bag and cold water. Submerge the bag in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes. If you use this method, cook the food immediately once thawed.
  • Thaw in the microwave. This is another fast alternative. Follow your microwave’s user manuals instructions and then cook immediately.
  • Cook without thawing. It is safe to cook foods from a frozen state. The only hang-up is the cook time will be about 50% longer than fully thawed meat or poultry.

You can only store refrigerated foods for so long before bacteria starts growing. FoodSafety.gov has compiled a chart to track safe food storage times. While the list was compiled with home-cooks in mind, it is a good reference for commercial-cooks as well. The chart includes freezer guidelines. Frozen foods will remain safe indefinitely, so these recommendations are for quality only.

Category

Food

Refrigerator
(40 °F or below)

Freezer
(0 °F or below)

Salads

Egg, chicken, ham, tuna & macaroni salads

3 to 5 days

Does not freeze well

Hot dogs

opened package

1 week

1 to 2 months

unopened package

2 weeks

1 to 2 months

Luncheon meat

opened package or deli sliced

3 to 5 days

1 to 2 months

unopened package

2 weeks

1 to 2 months

Bacon & Sausage

Bacon

7 days

1 month

Sausage, raw — from chicken, turkey, pork, beef

1 to 2 days

1 to 2 months

Hamburger & Other Ground Meats

Hamburger, ground beef, turkey, veal, pork, lamb, & mixtures of them

1 to 2 days

3 to 4 months

Fresh Beef, Veal, Lamb & Pork

Steaks

3 to 5 days

6 to 12 months

Chops

3 to 5 days

4 to 6 months

Roasts

3 to 5 days

4 to 12 months

Fresh Poultry

Chicken or turkey, whole

1 to 2 days

1 year

Chicken or turkey, pieces

1 to 2 days

9 months

Soups & Stews

Vegetable or meat added

3 to 4 days

2 to 3 months

Leftovers

Cooked meat or poultry

3 to 4 days

2 to 6 months

Chicken nuggets or patties

3 to 4 days

1 to 3 months

Pizza

3 to 4 days

1 to 2 months

 

For more food safety tips check out the full FoodSafety.gov website.

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