Basics for Handling Food Safely

JAMESTOWN, NEW YORK (July 18, 2017) -- Cornell Cooperative Extension Chautauqua County’s EFNEP Program would like to provide safe steps for food handling and preparation.

Safe steps in food handling, cooking, and storage are important to prevent foodborne illness. You cannot see, smell, or taste harmful bacteria that may cause illness. In every step of food preparation, follow the four steps of the Food Safe Families campaign to keep food safe and prevent foodborne illness:

  • Clean — Wash hands and surfaces often.
  • Separate — Do not cross-contaminate.
  • Cook — Cook to the right temperature.
  • Chill — Refrigerate promptly.
  • When shopping, select non-perishables before selecting frozen and perishable items. Be sure to check meat and poultry packaging for rips and choose products which are sealed and free of leaks. Do not buy food products past “use by” or “sell by” dates.

    According to the USDA food safety and inspection services, when storing foods, always refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours. Be sure to check the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer with an appliance thermometer- the refrigerator should be at 40 °F or below and the freezer at 0 °F. Cook or freeze fresh poultry, fish, ground meats, and variety meats within 2 days; other beef, veal, lamb, or pork, within 3 to 5 days. Perishable food such as meat and poultry should be wrapped securely to maintain quality and to prevent meat juices from getting onto other food. To maintain quality when freezing meat and poultry in its original package, wrap the package again with foil or plastic wrap that is recommended for the freezer. Canned foods are safe indefinitely as long as they are not exposed to freezing temperatures, or temperatures above 90 °F. If the cans look ok, they are safe to use. Discard cans that are dented, rusted, or swollen. High-acid canned food (tomatoes, fruits) will keep their best quality for 12 to 18 months; low-acid canned food (meats, vegetables) for 2 to 5 years.

    When thawing meat, it is important to use the following techniques to prevent bacteria growth on your food:

  • Refrigerator: The refrigerator allows slow, safe thawing. Make sure thawing meat and poultry juices do not drip onto other food.
  • Cold Water: For faster thawing, place food in a leak-proof plastic bag. Submerge in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes. Cook immediately after thawing.
  • Microwave: Cook meat and poultry immediately after microwave thawing.
  • When preparing foods, always wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds.

    Don't cross-contaminate- keep raw meat, poultry, fish, and their juices away from other food. After cutting raw meats, wash cutting board, utensils, and countertops with hot, soapy water. Cutting boards, utensils, and countertops can be sanitized by using a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water.

    Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to an internal temperature of 160 °F as measured with a food thermometer. Cook all poultry to an internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer.

    Leftovers should be discarded if left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours- 1 hour is temperature was above 90 °F. Place food into shallow containers and immediately put in the refrigerator or freezer for rapid cooling. Use cooked leftovers within 4 days and reheat to 165 °F.

    For more information on food storage safety and other topics, go to

    The EFNEP Program is one of many programs offered by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County (CCE-Chautauqua). CCE-Chautauqua is a subordinate governmental agency with an educational mission that operates under a form of organization and administration approved by Cornell University as agent for the State of New York. It is tax-exempt under section 501(c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code. The association is part of the national cooperative extension system, an educational partnership between County, State, and Federal governments. As New York’s land grant university Cornell administers the system in this state. Each Cornell Cooperative Extension association is an independent employer that is governed by an elected Board of Directors with general oversight from Cornell. All associations work to meet the needs of the counties in which they are located as well as state and national goals. For more information, call 716-664-9502 or visit our website at Cornell University Cooperative Extension provides equal program and employment opportunities.


    Else Alonge
    Nutrition Educator

    Last updated July 18, 2017