Food Safety

Young women's version of this guide

If you or anyone you know has gotten sick from eating food that has gone bad or exposed to bacteria, you know that avoiding foodborne illness is an important part of staying healthy. Here is some information about how to keep food safe and what to do if you get a foodborne illness.

What is food safety and why does it matter?

Food safety means keeping food safe to eat and drink. There are some general food safety tips that help lessen the risk of foods becoming unsafe. Foodborne illness can be a result of eating foods that have not been handled in a safe way. Foodborne illnesses can be avoided by taking care to minimize the chances of harmful bacteria or viruses contaminating or spoiling your food. Food safety involves different steps of the cooking and eating process, from washing your hands to cooling, heating and storing items properly.

Below is some information from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics about how to minimize the chances of contracting a foodborne illness.

How can I keep my food safe?

Personal hygiene

To keep food safe, getting the germs off your hands is a good way to start! Wash your hands well with soap and warm water before and after you start cooking. Lather up with soap and scrub your hands for about 20 seconds. Rinse your hands with warm water. After washing, make sure to dry your hands completely. Wash and dry your hands before and after you begin to prepare food to minimize the chances of spreading bacteria or viruses from your hands to the food you are about to cook-especially when handling raw meat. Always wash your hands after using the bathroom, sneezing, coughing and touching your mouth.

Another way to help ensure food safety is to avoid helping with food preparation when you are sick. If you are sick and breathe or sneeze on food, your germs can land on the food and spread to those who eat it. It’s especially important not to prepare food for others if you have symptoms of stomach distress such as diarrhea. Take care to stay away from the kitchen at home or work if you are not feeling well.

Separate raw food from ready-to-eat food

Foods such as raw meat can spread germs to other foods if you prepare them without care. Some examples of items to keep separate include: raw fish, seafood, meat and poultry. When you are at the grocery store separate these foods from other items in your shopping cart. It may also be helpful for you to separate cutting boards, shelves in the fridge, and any reusable grocery bags you use when buying and preparing these items.

Cook to proper temperature

Foods such as fish, seafood, meat, poultry and eggs need to be cooked to a minimum temperature to ensure safe eating. Cooking to a minimum temperature means that harmful bacteria will be killed by the heat, so that your food is safe to eat.

In order to figure out if certain food is properly cooked, you need to check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer. You can buy a meat thermometer at most grocery stores, kitchen stores, or online. To ensure optimal safety follow these temperature rules:

Ground meat – 160°F
Fresh beef, veal, pork and lamb – 145°F
Poultry (chicken, turkey, duck) – 165°F
Egg dishes – 160°F


This last rule of food safety is about keeping food stored at a safe temperature. Temperatures between 40-140°F are considered the “danger zone” for perishable food items (food that can go bad quickly). This is because at these temperatures, bacteria are more likely to multiply and the more harmful bacteria on your food, the higher the risk of you getting sick from it. This rule becomes particularly important when you consider times when you pack food that you plan on eating later, such as your school lunch. During these times, be careful to keep food cool with an ice pack, or store it in a refrigerator until you are ready to eat it.  Place any leftovers in a refrigerator or throw them away. Refrigerators, when working properly, should be at or below 40°F. This prevents the growth of bacteria on most food items.

Everyday food safety tips:

  • Wash your hands before preparing food.
  • Place fresh produce in a refrigerator within two hours of peeling or cutting.
  • Wash produce just before cooking or eating.
  • Cold running water is the best choice for washing produce and fresh foods.
  • Throw away leftover cut or peeled produce that is at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • Throw away cooked produce after 3-4 days.
  • Packed lunches should be eaten within two hours, or else stored in an insulated bag with an ice pack or kept refrigerated until ready to eat.
  • Make sure to check the expiration date before eating foods.
  • Dairy foods, such as milk and yogurt, should be kept chilled at all times.

What are the signs of food borne illness?

Symptoms of foodborne illness include: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever and chills. It can sometimes be hard to know if you have a foodborne illness or if you became ill from a different source. Typically foodborne illness occurs soon after eating a contaminated food and may affect anyone else who ate them at the same time. People most susceptible to foodborne illness include young children, older adults, those who have a weak immune system and women who are pregnant. If you believe you have a foodborne illness, you should call your primary care provider (PCP).