Keep Foods Safe

  • Hoyle, Elizabeth H.

  • Eating food that has not been properly stored or prepared can cause stomach aches, vomiting, and/or diarrhea.
  • One out of every ten people is affected by some type of foodborne illness (food poisoning) each year, we seldom hear about it because people think the symptoms are from a "virus" or "flu."
  • Some victims of foodborne illness face a greater risk than others of becoming seriously ill. They are the elderly, infants, pregnant women and chronically ill people.
  • We can help reduce hazards of foodborne illness in our own homes by learning simple principles of keeping food safe to eat.


Common foodborne illnesses (food poisoning) are caused by bacteria or by the toxic substances they produce. Harmful bacteria are commonly present in soil, raw meat, raw (unpasteurized) milk, pets, bugs, rodents, sneezes, coughs, and unwashed hands. These bacteria can cause problems if they come in contact with food and are allowed to grow.

Avoid raw eggs, meat, and seafood.

Stuff meat and poultry just before roasting or bake dressing in a separate dish. Any stuffing should reach a temperature of 165 o F.


Bacteria grow rapidly on protein-rich foods that are usually considered perishable such as eggs, milk, and meat. Bacteria do not grow as rapidly on fruits or vegetables. Gravies, stuffings, and bread can be special problems when they come into direct contact with meat.


Bacteria need time to grow. It takes a large number of bacteria to cause human illness.

  • Refrigerate perishable foods (meats, dairy products, seafood, eggs) immediately after buying them.
  • Remember leftovers are perishable, too. Serve food soon after cooking or refrigerate it promptly. Put food in the refrigerator as soon as you finish a meal. Never eat food that has been out of the refrigerator more than two hours.
  • Notice for Bag Lunches: Food should not be held at room temperature for more than 2 hours, including preparation time.

Internal Temperature Cooking Chart

     Hamburger patty  155o F
                Pork  160o F
                Beef  145o F
Poultry (white meat)  170o F
         (dark meat)  180o F

Keep Everything Clean
Keep hands and equipment that touch food clean, since bacteria can be transferred from pets, hands, and utensils to food. Clean can openers, cutting boards, and knives thoroughly each time you use them.

Cutting boards should be sanitized with a solution of 2 teaspoons liquid chlorine bleach in 1 quart of water after contact with meat, poultry, or dairy products. Rinse cutting board thoroughly after sanitizing.

Bacteria can be transferred from un-washed hands or unclean work surfaces to food. Bacteria can also be transferred from one food to another through direct contact (for example, turkey and dressing) or by using the same utensil to prepare two or more foods (for example, using the same knife to cut up a chicken and to dice potatoes for salad). Keep everything clean.

Microwave Safely
If using the "defrost" setting, cook food immediately.

Reheat thoroughly.

Follow microwave directions for thorough cooking-cover, rotate, allow for stand time-as recipe directs.


Bacteria grow more quickly at warm temperatures than at cold temperatures. Cooking thoroughly will kill bacteria. The diagram below illustrates how temperature can affect bacterial growth. In general, remember that, if a food feels comfortable to touch, bacteria are growing rapidly.

Keep Hot Foods Hot Keep Cold Foods Cold

  • Never partially cook meats or casseroles one day and finish cooking them later. Remember, "finish-up" cooking may "finish off" your dinner guests.
  • Thaw frozen food in the refrigerator or cook without thawing.

Reprinted by Libby Hoyle, Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist.

The Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, or disability and is an equal opportunity employer. Clemson University Cooperating with U.S. Department of Agriculture, South Carolina Counties. Issued in Furtherance of Cooperative Extension Work in Agriculture and Home Economics, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914

Disclaimer and Reproduction Information: Information in NASD does not represent NIOSH policy. Information included in NASD appears by permission of the author and/or copyright holder. More