Blog Home   >   Food safety tips for any occasion

Food safety tips for any occasion

The kitchens across the country are often busy with volunteers making meals for a variety of occasions. In most cases, there are no problems with the preparation and serving of the food. However, sometimes safety and cooking procedures are overlooked, and the results can be deadly. In fact, the CDC estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases.

Step 1: Clean Foods and Cooking Surfaces

In a recent study, it was found that 65 percent of consumers did not wash their hands before starting meal preparation. What actions do you take prior to preparing food?

Follow the three main steps of cleaning to prepare for a meal:

  • Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds

  • Clean working and preparation surfaces with hot water and soap before and between preparing each food item

  • Rinse produce to remove any harmful residual chemicals or bacteria

Step 2: Separate Foods to Prevent Cross Contamination

According to FARE, every 3 minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency department – that is more than 200,000 emergency department visits per year. Are you considering the effects of cross-contamination when preparing meals?

Follow these food separation steps to prevent foodborne illness and allergic reactions:

  • Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs from other foods

  • Use separate cutting boards, wrapping materials, plates and utensils - clean these between use for each food type

  • When marinating meats, do not re-use liquids such as marinades on cooked foods

Step 3: Cook Foods to Safe Temperatures 

Safely cooking food is a matter of temperature. Foods need to reach an internal temperature high enough to kill bacteria that can cause foodborne bacteria and illness such as Salmonella, E. coli, Norovirus, and Listeria. How do you check to ensure your food is properly cooked? 

Consider the following while cooking to prevent the spread of illness:   

  • Color is not a reliable indicator of safety - always check internal temperatures with a food thermometer to determine if your food is done 

  • Clean your food thermometer with hot water and soap after each use 

  • When microwaving food, make sure the food is heated to safe temperatures with no cold spots 

Step 4: Hold Food at Safe Temperatures - Avoid the Danger Zone

According to the USDA, bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 40° and 140°F, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes. Do your food handling practices foster the growth of bacteria?

Prevent the growth of bacteria and keep your people healthy by following these tips:

  • Never leave cold foods out of refrigeration for over 2 hours.

  • Warm and stir the food at regular intervals as this will help distribute heat evenly throughout the food.

  • Discard any perishables left out at room temperature for more than two hours unless you’re keeping it hot or cold.

For additional recommendations for maintaining safe food temperatures, visit Serving Up Safe Buffets.

Step 5: Chill food
According the Go 40 Degrees or Below campaign, 50-65% of consumers thaw raw meat, fish or poultry incorrectly (at room temperature and/or in stagnant water). Do you chill your foods correctly

Follow the three main steps of food chilling:

  • Keep refrigerators at 40 degrees or below - be aware, however, that temperatures below 32 degrees can lead to ice crystals which reduce food quality

  • Refrigerate food within two hours of purchase or use

  • Thaw foods properly in the refrigerator, cold water, or the microwave - do not thaw foods at room temperature

More Resources

  • Contact the Meat and Poultry Hotline for specific questions about safe handling and cooking procedures for proteins:

  • Visit the USDA live chat for your safe cooking and kitchen prep questions