Food Safety Tips

BY National Institutes of Health TIMEAugust 10, 2022 PRINT

Bring on the holidays! But before you start cooking, take a moment to look over some tips on food safety. They can help avoid getting you and others sick.

When preparing food, follow four basic steps: clean, separate, cook, and chill. First, wash your hands, countertop, and cutting board with hot soapy water. Make sure that knives and other cooking utensils are clean. Wash the lids of cans before opening. Rinse fruits and vegetables. (But don’t rinse raw meat before cooking. Disease-causing microbes can splash out of the sink and spread around.)

Next, be sure to separate foods. Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs away from foods that won’t be cooked. When shopping, put raw meat in a plastic bag. Keep it away from other items in your cart and fridge.

Use a food thermometer when cooking. Make sure that the inside of your food reaches the right temperature to kill bacteria.

Of course, you want to enjoy leftovers. Chill food in the refrigerator within two hours of cooking. Store it in clean, shallow containers with lids. Use or freeze within three to four days. And don’t let hot foods cool before putting them in the fridge—put them in as soon as possible.

Food-related illness is especially dangerous for people who are older or have health problems. If you follow these steps, you’ll enjoy a safe meal. Find more tips on food preparation and storage:

People at Risk: Older Adults

Adults aged 65 and older are more likely to be hospitalized or die from foodborne illness. This increased risk of foodborne illness is because organs and body systems go through changes as people age:

  • The body’s immune response to disease grows weaker.
  • The gastrointestinal tract holds onto food for a longer period of time, allowing bacteria to grow.
  • The liver and kidneys may not properly rid the body of foreign bacteria and toxins.
  • The stomach may not produce enough acid. The acidity helps to reduce the number of bacteria in our intestinal tract.
  • Underlying chronic conditions, such as diabetes and cancer, may also increase a person’s risk of foodborne illness.

Choose Safer Food

Learn about safer food choices for older adults who have a higher risk of getting very sick from foodborne germs, such as Listeria.

If you are 65 or older, or prepare food for someone who is, always follow the four steps:

  • Clean: Wash hands, utensils and surfaces often. Germs can spread and survive in many places.
  • Separate: Raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs can spread germs to ready-to-eat foods, so keep them separate.
  • Cook: Food is safely cooked only when the internal temperature is high enough to kill germs that can make you sick.
  • Chill: Refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours. If the food is exposed to temperatures above 90°F (like a hot car or picnic), refrigerate it within 1 hour.
A part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, NIH is the largest biomedical research agency in the world.
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