Published on 08/28/08

Clean, separate, cook and chill to keep food safe

Judy Harrison
Extension Foods Specialist

Fall means cooler temperatures, fabulous weekend outings, exciting football tailgate parties and -- foodborne illness? Don’t let vomiting, diarrhea, fever or other foodborne illness problems interfere with your plans this fall.

September is National Food Safety Education Month. What better time to learn to Be Food Safe and keep your family and friends safe from foodborne illness?

Be Food Safe is the name of a current food safety campaign promoted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Keeping food safe is very simple. There are four basic steps to follow to Be Food Safe.

1) Clean your hands with soap and warm, running water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food. Rinse fruits and vegetables under cool, running water. This will remove harmful bacteria that can get into food from dirty hands and can cut down on the number of bacteria that might be on the surface of fruits and vegetables.

Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and countertops with hot, soapy water and rinse after preparing each food item and before you go to the next one. Clean surfaces and utensils can keep harmful bacteria from being spread throughout the kitchen.

2) Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood and their juices from other food items in the grocery cart or kitchen. Use one cutting board for raw meat, poultry and seafood and another for salads and ready-to-eat food. Wash boards well between uses.

Store raw meat, poultry and seafood in a sealed container or plate on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator and below ready-to-eat food. This will prevent cross-contamination, or the spread of bacteria from one food to another.

3) Cook food. Use a food thermometer to take the guesswork out of cooking. It’s the only way to tell that food has reached a high enough internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria. You can’t tell by looking. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the food away from any bones.

Beef and pork should reach 160 F for medium. Chicken should reach at least 165 F. Most consumers prefer chicken cooked to an even higher temperature such as 170 F to 180 F to eliminate pink color and rubbery texture. Ground beef should reach at least 160 F to eliminate the risk of E. coli O157:H7.

4) Chill leftovers and takeout foods within 2 hours. Freeze leftovers that will not be used within 3-4 days for longer storage. Keep the refrigerator at 40 F or below and the freezer at 0 F or below. Use refrigerator/freezer thermometers to measure the temperature inside your appliance.

Thaw meat, poultry, and seafood in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Marinate foods in the refrigerator, too. Bacteria can multiply quickly and can cause problems for food allowed to sit at temperatures between 40 F and 140 F, or the temperature danger zone.

Following these simple steps will help you Be Food Safe and keep your fall activities right on schedule by avoiding foodborne illness. And don’t forget this simple rule: When in doubt, throw it out!

For more information on safe product temperatures, using food thermometers or other food safety tips, call your local UGA Extension family and consumer sciences agent at 1-800-Ask-UGA1. Learn more about the USDA Be Food Safe campaign at

(Judy Harrison is a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension food safety specialist with the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences.)

Judy Harrison is a food safety specialist with University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.

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