Four steps to food safety in your kitchen

Be Food Safe USDAPosted on October 13, 2011
As seen in Healthy Communities, Autumn 2011

You may be a good cook, but are you a safe cook? With the holidays on the horizon, there will be lots of home cooking! Now’s a good time to review the basics to keep your foods, and you, germ-free through the season—and throughout the year.

Under the watchful eye of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), food producers work hard to keep germs out of our meat, cheese, poultry and vegetables. But the system isn’t perfect. It’s still easy for bacteria to spread throughout your kitchen and get on your hands, cutting boards, knives and countertops. Fortunately, you can protect your family against many kinds of food-borne illness with good cooking practices in the kitchen.

The "food safety four"

The USDA summarizes these good practices in four words: Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill:

  • Clean. Wash your hands, utensils and cutting boards before and after contact with raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs. Don’t forget to wash fruits and vegetables.
  • Separate. Keep raw meat and poultry (and their juices) apart from the foods you don’t cook. Don’t use the same knife or cutting board for raw meat that you use for vegetables.
  • Cook. Use a food thermometer—you can’t tell food is cooked safely by how it looks.
    Temperature guidelines for the insides of meats:
    - Chops and roasts - 145 degrees
    - Ground meats - 160 degrees
    - Poultry - 165 degrees
  • Chill. Put leftovers and takeout foods in a fridge or cooler within two hours. Keep your refrigerator at 40 degrees or below. Thaw frozen foods in the fridge, not on the countertop.

Taking these simple steps will go a long way in protecting you and your loved ones from getting sick from the foods you eat!

More information about food safety

Be Food Safe Campaign (USDA)

Food recall basic information ( 

Download a food safety poster 

Send food safety e-cards