Cooking Basics: General Food Safety

Learn the essentials in basic food safety.

by Jyl Steinback

  • Wash your hands often, especially before and after handling raw food.

  • Keep raw meats and poultry separate from other foods.

  • Use separate cutting boards for raw meats and poultry.

  • Cook foods to proper internal temperatures: ground meats to 160°F; ground poultry to 165°F; beef, veal and lamb steaks, roasts and chops may be cooked to 145°F; all cuts of fresh pork to at least 160°F; whole poultry should reach 180°F in the thigh, 170°F in the breast.

  • For rapid cooling, divide cooked foods into small, shallow containers to store in refrigerator or freezer until serving.

  • Refrigerate cooked foods at temperatures below 40°F.

  • The USDA recommends keeping hot foods hot (above 140°F) and cold foods cold (below 40°F).

  • Throw away any foods kept at temperatures between 41 to 139°F for more than 2 hours, because at these temperatures, any bacteria present can double every 20 to 30 minutes.

  • Most leftovers are safe in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. They are safe indefinitely in the freezer but are best if used within 2 to 4 months. All leftovers should be reheated to 165°F.

  • Do not taste food until it has reached a safe internal temperature.

  • Never partially cook food you plan to finish cooking later. This will increase the risk of bacterial growth on the food. Bacteria are killed when foods reach a safe internal temperature.

  • It is safe to reduce oven temperature by 25°F when using a convection oven. Check the manufacturer's directions for additional information.

  • Safe microwaving tips:

    • Stir or rotate food halfway through cooking time to eliminate cold spots and guarantee more even cooking.

    • Cover food with microwave-safe wrap.

    • Foods can be partially cooked in the microwave only if the food is immediately finished cooking by baking, broiling, grilling or stir- frying.

    • Follow recipe instructions for "standing times" as foods finish cooking once removed from microwave.

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