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Public Health - Seattle & King County

Food safety in your home kitchen

Food safety in your home kitchen is just as important as food safety in restaurant kitchens. In fact, as much as 60% of foodborne illness may be from home kitchens.

People can get sick when they eat food that contain germs. Foodborne illnesses are most dangerous for children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems, but they can affect anyone.

Some types of foods are more likely than other foods to grow germs that can make us sick. They can grow easily at room temperatures in these foods. Foods which are moist and contain protein are the most potentially hazardous. This includes meat, fish, poultry, dairy, eggs, cooked rice, cooked dry beans, tofu, cooked potatoes, and cut melons. Unpasteurized juices are also a risk.

Here are four very important things you can do to keep you and your family and friends safe from foodborne illness at home.

Safety precaution #1
Wash your hands

Washing hands with warm water and soap gets rid of the germs on your hands that can get into food and make people sick. Wash your hands:

  • before touching utensils you use to make your food (like knives, cutting boards, pots and pans), and before you touch food that will not be cooked (like lettuce, salad, fruit, etc.)
  • after going to the bathroom, after working with raw meat, fish or poultry, after taking out the garbage, sneezing, coughing, or smoking.

The best way to wash your hands is to:

  • Wet your hands with warm water. Use soap.
  • Rub your hands together to loosen any dirt and germs. Rub between fingers, and over your wrists, don't forget your thumbs. Get under your fingernails where germs can hide, too. Wash your hands for 20 seconds, about the time it takes to hum "happy birthday" to yourself.
  • Rinse under clean, warm water. Warm water is better than cold water to get the germs off.
  • Dry your hands with paper towels. After being used once, a cloth towel might have germs on it, so if you prefer cloth towels, wash them frequently.

» Download or order free handwashing posters.

Safety precaution #2
Keep foods safe from cross-contamination

Cross contamination happens when germs from raw or unclean foods gets onto foods that will not be cooked (or reheated) before eating. Follow these steps to keep food safe from contamination:

  • Put raw meat, fish, poultry on the bottom shelf in the refrigerator so the juices don't drip on foods that won't be cooked.
  • Never store foods that won't be cooked before serving in the same container as raw meat, fish or poultry.
  • Use a hard cutting surface with no splits or holes in it. Germs can grow in them.
  • After cutting or working with raw meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and melons, wash your hands before touching any food that will be eaten without being cooked (for example, wash your hands well after working with hamburger before putting the lettuce, tomatoes and onion on your bun).
  • Wash, rinse and sanitize the cutting surface and all the utensils (knives, etc.) every time you finish cutting raw meat, fish, poultry and melons. Household bleach is a good sanitizer. Use a capful (1 tsp.) for each gallon of cool water.
Safety precaution #3
Cool and heat (and reheat) foods properly

Not cooling food the right way is the biggest cause of foodborne illness. Germs grow quickly, and/or toxins can form. Reheating to the proper temperature before serving again is very important, too. Follow these food safety ways:

  • If food has been sitting at room temperature (in the "danger zone") for up to 2 hours, refrigerate it or reheat it. After food has been sitting out for 2 to 4 hours, throw it out. Potentially hazardous foods (like cut melons, meats, dairy, fish, etc.) should never be eaten if they have been sitting out for more than 4 hours.
  • To cool them safely, large pieces of meat or poultry need to be cut into pieces 4 inches or less.
  • Pour thick foods like pea soup, beans, & chili into shallow pans no more than 2 inches deep to cool them. The shallow pans help them to cool quickly.
  • Do not cover hot food until it has cooled to 41° F or below.
  • Reheating the food needs to be done as quickly as possible (within 1 hour) so it doesn't stay too long in the "danger zone."
  • Reheat foods to 165° F or above; use a meat thermometer to check the temperature.
Safety precaution #4
Heat foods to the proper temperature

Move foods quickly through "THE DANGER ZONE", the temperature range where germs can grow most quickly and easily. Your job is to get foods through the "danger zone" as quickly as possible by cooking, cooling, or reheating in the right way.

The Danger Zone thermometer