Food Preparation Safety Basics

There are many reasons to understand safety in the kitchen, especially as it applies to the purchasing, preparation, and storage of food products.

The following are some basics.

(This article may be updated or added to from time to time, so please  visit occasionally to get new or additional information to help you prepare safe and healthy meals.)

A HACCP Approach in the Home Kitchen

Meat and poultry processing plants are required under new USDA rules to implement HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) systems as a means of controlling their processes to prevent microbial contamination. The HACCP system is used voluntarily in other areas of the food industry, as well. But what does HACCP mean to the consumer in the home?

According to Bessie Berry, Acting Manager of the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline, “A recent Associated Press poll revealed that 89% of those surveyed said they follow the safe handling instructions on raw meat and poultry products. The safe handling instructions are really part of a HACCP approach which starts in the store and continues in the home.”

As in meat and poultry plants, potential hazards in the home can be divided into three categories:

  1. biological (bacteria);
  2. chemical (cleaning agents); and
  3. physical (equipment).

There are certain processes or handling practices by consumers in the home that have been identified as being essential or critical in preventing food borne illness. These practices, which prevent or control the “dinner plate” microbial contamination associated with food borne illness, are under the direct control of the consumer, from food acquisition through disposal. They are purchasing, storing, pre-preparation, cooking, serving, and handling leftovers. Failure to take appropriate action at these critical points could result in food borne illness.


  • Purchase meat and poultry products last and keep separate from other foods.
  • Make sure meat and poultry products are refrigerated when purchased.
  • USDA strongly advises against purchasing fresh, pre-stuffed whole birds.
  • Canned goods should be free of dents, cracks or bulging lids.
  • Take food straight home to the refrigerator. If travel time will exceed one hour, pack perishable foods in a cooler with ice and keep groceries and cooler in the passenger area of the car during warm weather.


  • Verify the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer with an appliance thermometer–refrigerators should run at 40 F or below; freezers at 0 F.
  • At home, refrigerate or freeze meat and poultry immediately. If they are for use later in day store below other products in the refrigerator to avoid potential contaminating drips from the meat or poultry. It’s best to store in a lidded sealed container.
  • Prevent raw juices from dripping on other foods in the refrigerator.
  • Wash hands with soap and water before and after handling any raw meat, poultry, or seafood products.
  • Store canned goods in a cool, clean dry place. Avoid extreme heat or cold.
  • Never store any foods directly under a sink and always keep foods off the floor and separate from cleaning supplies.


  • Wash hands with soap and water: before beginning preparation; after handling raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs; after touching animals; after using the bathroom; after changing diapers; or after blowing the nose.Keep your hands, fingers, etc., away from your hair, nose, clothing while preparing raw foods. Make sure that your hair is secure to minimize the risk of hair getting in your food products.
  • Don’t let raw meat, poultry or seafood juices come in contact with cooked foods or foods that will be eaten raw. If possible have more than one cutting board available when preparing multiple products. Be absolutely sure that the cutting board in thoroughly cleaned between preparations of separate products.
  • Wash hands, counters, equipment, utensils and cutting boards with soap and water immediately after use for each prepped item. Counters, equipment, utensils and cutting boards can be sanitized with a chlorine solution of 1 teaspoon liquid household bleach per quart of water. Let the solution stand on the board after washing, or follow the instructions on sanitizing products.
  • Thaw in the refrigerator, never on the counter. A rule of thumb is that it takes about 24 hours for frozen food to thaw in a normal household refrigerator
  • Marinate foods in the refrigerator, never on the counter.
  • If you stuff whole poultry, use a meat thermometer to make sure the internal temperature of the stuffing reaches 165 F before removing it from the oven.


  • Always cook thoroughly and to the recommended temperature called for in a recipe. Use a meat or food thermometer to determine if your meat or poultry or casserole has reached a safe internal temperature by taking the temperature of the product in several spots. A safe internal temperature will normally exceed 140 degrees F
  • Avoid interrupting cooking. Never refrigerate partially cooked products to finish cooking later.
  • When microwaving foods, carefully follow manufacturer’s instructions.


  • Wash hands with soap and water before serving or eating food.
  • Serve cooked products on clean plates with clean utensils and clean hands.
  • Hold hot foods above 140 F and cold foods below 40 F.
  • Never leave foods, raw or cooked, at room temperature longer than 2 hours. On a hot day with temperatures at 90 F or warmer, this decreases to 1 hour.


  • Wash hands before and after handling leftovers. Use clean utensils and surfaces.
  • Divide leftovers into small units and store in shallow containers for quick cooling. Refrigerate within 2 hours of cooking.
  • Discard anything left out too long.
  • Never taste a food to determine if it’s safe. Reheat leftovers thoroughly to 165 F or until hot and steamy.
  • Bring soups, sauces and gravies to a rolling boil.
  • If in doubt, throw it out.

For additional food safety information about meat, poultry or eggs, call the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-800-535-4555. It is staffed by home economists, dietitians and food technologists from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET year round. An extensive selection of food safety recordings can be heard 24 hours a day using a touch-tone phone. Information is also available on the Internet from the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service Home Page at

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