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Food Safety 101: How to Protect Yourself and Family From Food Poisoning

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

Raw meat on wooden cutting board

Raw meat on wooden cutting board

The Next 90 Seconds Are Important

If you want to prepare a lovely chicken dinner for the boss who fired you, the guy who ran the red light and totaled your new car, or your worst enemy, the following video is for you.

The Stats on Foodborne Illness

The United States of America Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases. Don't become one of the statistics.

If you want to keep your friends, family, and yourself safe, there are a few simple guidelines you must follow.

Be a Savvy Shopper

  • Check "use by" dates.
  • Don't let raw meat come in contact with other items in your shopping cart.
  • Keep cold foods cold; if you have multiple errands to run, make sure that the grocery store is your last stop before heading home. Or, before you leave home, place an ice chest (with ice) in the trunk of your car.
Raw chicken

Raw chicken

Handle Raw Foods Properly

Raw Meats

  • Do not store raw meat with other foods.
  • Keep raw meat in sealed containers.
  • Keep raw meat in the coldest part of the refrigerator.



  • Buy Grade A or AA eggs that have been refrigerated—check the expiration date.
  • Keep eggs in their original carton and do not wash them—this removes a protective coating.
  • Store eggs in the refrigerator, kept at 40 degrees F (4 degrees C), in a colder part of the fridge—not in the door.
  • Fresh eggs can be kept safely in the refrigerator for three to five weeks from the date of purchase—not from the date on the carton.
  • Eat or refrigerate cooked eggs immediately—use cooked, refrigerated eggs within three to four days.


Fruits and Vegetables

  • Wash tender fruits such as raspberries and grapes under cold running water in a colander.
  • Scrub firmer produce (pears, apples, tomatoes) with your hands under running water.
  • Scrub root vegetables with a clean vegetable brush.
  • Peel and discard the outer leaves of leafy vegetables, such as spinach and lettuce.
  • Even fruits or vegetables with inedible rind should be washed—think about it. When your knife cuts through the rind and into the flesh of the produce, it is moving potential contaminants from the unwashed rind into the part you want to eat.

Store Foods Properly

Your refrigerator is not a time capsule. Even if kept chilled, food will spoil. Use the information below to know when it's time to "let it go."


Source: Food

FoodTypeRefrigerator (40° F or below)Freezer (0°F or below)


Egg substitutes, frozen, unopened

After thawing, 1 week or refer to "use by" date

12 months


Egg substitutes, frozen, opened

After cooking, 3 to 4 days or refer to "use by" date

Do no freeze


Casseroles with eggs

3 to 4 days

After baking, 2 to 3 months


Eggnog, commercial

3 to 5 days

6 months


Eggnog, homemade

2 to 4 days

Do not freeze


Pies: pumpkin or pecan

3 to 4 days

After baking, 1 to 2 months


Pies: custard and chiffon

3 to 4 days

Do not freeze


Quiche with filling

3 to 5 days

After baking, 2 to 3 months

Fruits, Vegetables, Meats, Salads, and Leftovers

Everything else you need to know to safely store your foods in the refrigerator and/or freezer is provided in this link. This is a compilation of advice from the Food Safety and Inspection Service, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Safely Defrost Frozen Foods

There are three methods of defrosting:

  • Refrigerator (The amount of time needed to thaw will depend on the size of the piece of meat; a whole chicken will take 24 hours to two days, whereas smaller, cut-up pieces of meat will take two to nine hours.)
  • Cold water bath
  • Microwave on defrost

Never use hot water to defrost frozen food, and never re-freeze food that has been defrosted.

Keep Everything Clean

  • Always wash your hands before handling food—especially if you have just used the bathroom, handled pets, or cleaned the kitty litter box. (I can't believe I have to remind anyone of that).
  • Wash your hands often while working with food.
  • Do not use the same cutting board for raw meat and bread or produce. Although wooden cutting boards are pretty to look at they are impractical. I feel that plastic boards, which can be placed in the dishwasher, are best.
  • Likewise, do not use the same knife for raw meat and then bread or produce.
  • Keep your kitchen counters and other food preparation areas (this includes the sink) clean, especially when preparing high-risk food items like meat, poultry, and eggs.
  • Grandma probably kept a dishcloth or sponge near the kitchen sink, but both of these are a happy breeding grounds for bacteria and other nasty things. A roll of paper towels or a pop-up container of disinfecting wipes is your best friend in the kitchen. Remember, a simple wipe with a damp cloth won't suffice—you need to use hot soapy water or bleach.

Cook Foods Thoroughly

  • Cooking to the proper temperature is especially important for red meat, poultry, and eggs, which are high-risk foods. The chart below provides the proper internal temperature for food safety.
  • Use an instant-read thermometer when in doubt.

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

ProductMinimum Internal Temperature and Rest Time

Beef, pork, veal and lamb (steaks, chops, roasts)

145°F (62.8°C) and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes

Ground meats

160°F (71.1°C)

Ham, fresh or smoked (uncooked)

145°F (62.8°C) and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes

Fully-cooked ham (to reheat)

Reheat cooked hams packaged in USDA-inspected plants to 140°F (60°C) and all others to 165oF (73.9oC)

All poultry (breasts, whole bird, legs, thighs, wings, ground poultry, giblets, and stuffing

165°F (73.9°C)


160°F (71.1°C)

Fish and shellfish

145°F (62.8°C)


165°F (73.9°C)


165°F (73.9°C)

© 2015 Linda Lum