Basics for Handling Food Safely

Safe steps in food handling, cooking, and storage are essential to prevent foodborne illness. You can't see, smell, or taste harmful bacteria that may cause illness. In every step of food preparation, follow the four Fight BAC!® guidelines to keep food safe:

  • Clean - Wash hands and surfaces often.
  • Separate - Don't cross-contaminate.
  • Cook - Cook to proper temperatures.
  • Chill - Refrigerate promptly.


  • Purchase refrigerated or frozen items after
    selecting your non-perishables.
  • Never choose meat or poultry in packaging
    that is torn or leaking.
  • Do not buy food past "Sell-By," "Use-By," or
    other expiration dates.


  • Always refrigerate perishable food within 2
    hours (1 hour when the temperature is
    above 90 °F).
  • Check the temperature of your refrigerator
    and freezer with an appliance thermomete.r
    The refrigerator should be at 40 °F or below
    and the freezer at 0 °F or below.
  • Cook or freeze fresh poultry, fish, ground
    meats, and variety meats within 2 days;
    other beef, veal, lamb, or pork, within 3 to 5
  • 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.
  • In general, high-acid canned food such as
    tomatoes, grapefruit, and pineapple can be
    stored on the shelf for 12 to 18 months. Lowacid
    canned food such as meat, poultry, fish,
    and most vegetables will keep 2 to 5 years -
    if the can remains in good condition and has
    been stored in a cool, clean, and dry place.
    Discard cans that are dented, leaking,
    bulging, or rusted.


  • Always wash hands before and after handling food.
  • Don't cross-contaminate. Keep raw meat,
    poultry, fish, and their juices away from other
    food. After cutting raw meats, wash hands,
    cutting board, knife, and counter tops with
    hot, soapy water.
  • Marinate meat and poultry in a covered dish
    in the refrigerator.
  • Sanitize cutting boards by using a solution of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach in 1 quart of


  • 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.


  • 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. For
    reasons of personal preference, consumers
    may choose to cook meat to higher
  • Ground meat: Cook all raw ground beef,
    pork, lamb, and veal to an internal
    temperature of 160°F as measured with a
    food thermometer.
  • Poultry: Cook all poultry to an internal
    temperature of 165°F as measured with a
    food thermometer.

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USDA - Kitchen Companion Handbook
Click to download USDA Kitchen Companion Handbook.
Safe Handling Label
Click to download the Safe Handling Label.