Food Safety 101

What is food safety?

Food safety is the idea that all food should be prepared, handled, and stored in a way that ensures it does not make people sick. It affects everyone – from the person washing their hands before handling foods to the restaurant employees following good sanitary practices to the manufacturers ensuring they are meeting strict standards of cleanliness in their facilities. Food safety is not just about following rules, It is about following practices that will keep you and your loved ones healthy all year long.

4 Basic Steps for Food Safety

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the following four basic steps are important to ensure food safety:

Food Safety Fact

Foods can be contaminated with disease-causing organisms and bacteria at any point during growing, harvesting, processing, shipping/distribution, and storing. Strict food safety regulations and proper food handling help protect consumers.

Common Food Safety Mistakes

The most common mistakes people make when it comes to food safety include allowing foods to sit at unsafe temperatures, failing to wash hands and surfaces before preparing food, and not cooking foods thoroughly. While these common mistakes seem innocent, they are food safety violations. These mistakes can lead to severe illness or even death.

Top food safety offenses include:

  • Not washing hands thoroughly before touching or preparing foods.
  • Using the same cutting board for raw meats and vegetables without first cleaning it.
  • Reheating previously cooked food and not cooking it until it is steaming hot throughout (this includes microwaving).
  • Not using a meat thermometer to check that the food is cooked thoroughly.
  • Leaving raw meats at room temperature before cooking it (raw meats should be refrigerated until ready to cook).
  • Leaving cooked foods at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • Not washing fruits and vegetables before eating them.

Foods most likely to contain harmful bacteria are:

  • Meat including beef, pork, and poultry
  • Seafood such as fish steaks and whole fish
  • Eggs, both in their shells and cracked
  • Raw milk products including soft cheese such as Feta, Brie or Camembert, Ricotta or goat cheese, unpasteurized (fresh) hot pepper or other types of soft cheese (Limburger for example), cream-filled pastry like custards and eclairs
  • Unpasteurized juices

What is food poisoning?

Food poisoning is a common consequence of mishandling foods. As mentioned before, these can be as simple as failing to wash your hands thoroughly before preparing foods or leaving cooked meats on the counter for hours at a time. Food poisoning, however, is more than just an upset stomach. It can be potentially life-threatening and cause long-term effects for those that survive it. Some of the most common symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, fever, sore throat, body aches and weakness.

Who is at risk for foodborne illness?

Generally, anyone can get a foodborne illness. When people think of someone at risk for a foodborne illness they usually picture an infant, young child, pregnant woman, elderly person or someone with a compromised immune system. But did you know that more than half of all reported cases of food poisoning involved healthy children and adults between the ages of 19 and 64? In other words, anyone can get sick from eating contaminated foods. Millions of Americans get sick from foodborne illnesses every year. By maintaining safe food preparation practices, you can help protect yourself and your family?

Food Safety Guidelines to prevent Food Poisoning

  • Store foods at the correct temperature; make sure cold food stays cold (40 degrees or below) and hot foods stay hot (140 degrees or above).
    Make sure that cooked foods stay either hot or cold for no longer than two hours. If you need to keep a dish out for more than one hour, use special equipment like electric warming carts, chafing dishes, slow cookers, insulated coolers, etc.
  • Cook meats thoroughly so they are steaming hot before eating them and don’t taste raw or pink in the center.
  • Keep your hands clean while preparing foods by washing them in warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food.
  • Always marinate meats in the refrigerator, not on the counter.
  • Use a meat thermometer when cooking meats to check that they are cooked thoroughly.
  • If you prepare raw meat keep it separate from ready-to-eat foods like salads or fruit, don’t use utensils or cutting boards with raw meat juices to make these items, and wash everything very well once you are finished preparing raw meat.
  • When defrosting frozen foods always do so in the refrigerator (not out on the counter), cook frozen food right away once it’s been properly thawed, never refreeze previously frozen food has already been thawed.

Food Safety FAQ

Wash your hands after