Wash, separate, cook, refrigerate: 4 steps for safe food handling


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When you dine out at a restaurant, you expect nothing less than proper handling of your meal behind the scenes. (Ever been seated near a kitchen, saw a waiter drop bread on the floor and place it back in the bread basket? Yeah, I’ve been there.)

So why would you take fewer precautions at home when handling your food in your own kitchen? Well maybe you don’t. But just in case, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Home Food Safety program are encouraging at-home chefs to always practice safe food handling.

And they’ve broken it down into four easy steps:

1. Wash

According to HomeFoodSafety.org, “proper hand washing may eliminate nearly half of all cases of food poisoning and significantly reduce the spread of the common cold and flu.” But washing your hands for five seconds — or worse, with no soap at all — is not enough. You need to lather up for 20 seconds and wash both sides of your hand and under fingernails. And always remember to clean kitchen surfaces.

2. Separate

Separate, or prevent cross-contamination, to keep bacteria from spreading. “It occurs when juices from raw meats or germs from unclean objects touch cooked or ready-to-eat foods.” And keeping foods from cross-contaminating is not only important during the prep and cooking stages. Separating food is crucial at the supermarket and when storing food in your refrigerator and freezer.

3. Cook

HomeFoodSafety.org urges at-home chefs to use a food thermometer and cook food at the right temperature to prevent food poisoning. Sight, smell and taste are not enough. Make sure you check out the “Cook” Web page for a comprehensive chart that reveals at what temperature different kinds of meat, poultry egg and seafood should be cooked.

4. Refrigerate

Food should be refrigerated quickly to prevent the growth of bacteria. Leftovers should not be left sitting around for more than two hours. (In the summer — think 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher — that time is reduced to one hour.) Keep your refrigerator set below 40 degrees.


Visit HomeFoodSafety.org for more information, the latest recalls, downloadable tip sheets and quizzes.