New Year’s Resolution: Food Safety

People tend to not take food illness very seriously. Mainly because the symptoms are not long-lasting in most healthy people – a few hours or a few days – and usually go away without medical treatment.

However, foodborne illness can be severe, even life-threatening to anyone, especially those most at risk such as older adults, infants and young children, pregnant women, and people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, or any condition that weakens their immune systems.

Start the new year off with food safety! Protect your family from foodborne illness all year long by following proper food safety practices and procedures.

About Food Illness

The CDC estimates that each year 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die.

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Researchers have identified more than 250 types of foodborne illnesses.  Most of them are infections, caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. But, harmful toxins and chemicals also can contaminate foods and cause foodborne illness.

Food illness (or foodborne poisoning) happens when you get sick from eating or drinking something that has harmful germs in it – like bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Despite all that government and the food industry do to help protect us, individuals need to take every practical step they can to prevent foodborne illness.

Symptoms of Food Illness

Common symptoms  of foodborne illness are nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. However, symptoms may differ among the different types of foodborne illness. Symptoms can sometimes be severe and some foodborne illnesses can even be life-threatening.

Groups Vulnerable to Food Illness

Although anyone can get a foodborne illness, some people are more likely to develop one. Those groups include:

  • Young children
  • Older adults
  • Pregnant women
  • People with immune systems weakened from medical conditions, such as diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, organ transplants, HIV/AIDS, or from receiving chemotherapy or radiation treatment.

Food Safety Steps: Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill

Following good food safety habits can help protect you and your family from food illness. To keep your family safe from food illness, follow these four simple steps: clean, separate, cook, and chill:


Wash hands and surfaces often

  • Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and handling pets.
  • Wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item.
  • Consider using paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces. If you use cloth towels, launder them often in the hot cycle.
  • Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Scrub firm produce with a clean produce brush.
  • With canned goods, remember to clean lids before opening.


Separate raw meats from other foods

  • Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs from other foods in your grocery shopping cart, grocery bags, and refrigerator.
  • Use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
  • Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs unless the plate has been washed in hot, soapy water.
  • Don’t reuse marinades used on raw foods unless you bring them to a boil first.


Cook to the right temperature

  • Color and texture are unreliable indicators of safety. Using a food thermometer is the only way to ensure the safety of meat, poultry, seafood, and egg products for all cooking methods. These foods must be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature to destroy any harmful bacteria.
  • Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm. Only use recipes in which eggs are cooked or heated thoroughly.
  • When cooking in a microwave oven, cover food, stir, and rotate for even cooking. If there is no turntable, rotate the dish by hand once or twice during cooking. Always allow standing time, which completes the cooking, before checking the internal temperature with a food thermometer.
  • Bring sauces, soups and gravy to a boil when reheating.


Refrigerate foods promptly

  • Use an appliance thermometer to be sure the temperature is consistently 40° F or below and the freezer temperature is 0° F or below.
  • Refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, and other perishables within 2 hours of cooking or purchasing. Refrigerate within 1 hour if the temperature outside is above 90° F.
  • Never thaw food at room temperature, such as on the counter top. There are three safe ways to defrost food: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave. Food thawed in cold water or in the microwave should be cooked immediately.
  • Always marinate food in the refrigerator.
  • Divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers for quicker cooling in the refrigerator.

Chart: Min. Internal Cooking Temperatures

Safe Minimum Internal Temperatures as measured with a food thermometer
Food Type Internal temperature
Beef, Pork, Veal, and Lamb
(chops, roasts, steaks)
145oF with a 3 minute rest time
Ground Meat 160oF
Ham, uncooked
(fresh or smoked)
 145oF with a 3 minute rest time
Ham, fully cooked
(to reheat)
(ground, parts, whole, and stuffing)
Eggs Cook until yolk & white are firm
Egg Dishes 160oF
Fin Fish 145oF or flesh is opaque & separates easily with fork
Shrimp, Lobster, and Crabs Flesh pearly & opaque
Clams, Oysters, and Mussels Shells open during cooking
Scallops Flesh is milky white or opaque and firm
Leftovers and Casseroles 165oF