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Appendix 14. Food Safety Principles and Guidance

An important part of healthy eating is keeping foods safe. It is estimated that foodborne illness affects about 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people), leading to 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths every year.[1] Food may be handled numerous times as it moves from the farm to homes. Individuals in their own homes can reduce contaminants and help keep food safe to eat by following safe food handling practices. Four basic food safety principles work together to reduce the risk of foodborne illness—Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill. These four principles are the cornerstones of Fight BAC!®, a national food safety education campaign aimed at consumers.


Microbes, such as bacteria and viruses, can be spread throughout the kitchen and get onto hands, cutting boards, utensils, countertops, reusable grocery bags, and foods. This is called “cross-contamination.” Hand washing is important to prevent contamination of food with microbes from raw animal products (e.g., raw seafood, meat, poultry, and eggs) and from people (e.g., cold, flu, and Staph infections). Frequent cleaning of surfaces is essential in preventing cross-contamination. To reduce microbes and contaminants from foods, all produce, regardless of where it was grown or purchased, should be thoroughly rinsed. This is particularly important for produce that will be eaten raw.


Hands should be washed before and after preparing food, especially after handling raw seafood, meat, poultry, or eggs, and before eating. In addition, hand washing is recommended after going to the bathroom, changing diapers, coughing or sneezing, tending to someone who is sick or injured, touching animals, and handling garbage. Hands should be washed using soap and water. Soaps with antimicrobial agents are not needed for consumer hand washing, and their use over time can lead to growth of microbes resistant to these agents. Alcohol-based (≥ 60%), rinse-free hand sanitizers should be used when hand washing with soap is not possible. Hand sanitizers are not as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy.

Wash Hands With Soap and Water

  • Wet hands with clean running water (warm or cold), turn off tap, and apply soap.
  • Rub hands together to make lather and scrub the back of hands, between fingers, and under nails for at least 20 seconds. If you need a timer you can hum the “happy birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse hands well under running water.
  • Dry hands using a clean towel or air dry them.


Surfaces should be washed with hot, soapy water. A solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water can be used to sanitize surfaces. All kitchen surfaces should be kept clean, including tables, countertops, sinks, utensils, cutting boards, and appliances. For example, the insides of microwaves easily become soiled with food, allowing microbes to grow. They should be cleaned often.

Keep Appliances Clean

  • At least once a week, throw out refrigerated foods that should no longer be eaten.
  • Cooked leftovers should be discarded after 4 days; raw poultry and ground meats, 1 to 2 days.
  • Wipe up spills immediately—clean food-contact surfaces often.
  • Clean the inside and the outside of appliances. Pay particular attention to buttons and handles where cross-contamination to hands can occur.


Vegetables and fruits. All produce, regardless of where it was grown or purchased, should be thoroughly rinsed. However, any precut packaged items, like lettuce or baby carrots, are labeled as prewashed and ready-to-eat. These products can be eaten without further rinsing.

  • Rinse fresh vegetables and fruits under running water just before eating, cutting, or cooking.
  • Do not use soap or detergent to clean produce; commercial produce washes are not needed.
  • Even if you plan to peel or cut the produce before eating, it is still important to thoroughly rinse it first to prevent microbes from transferring from the outside to the inside of the produce.
  • Scrub the skin or rind of firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush while you rinse it.
  • Dry produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present. Wet produce can allow remaining microbes to multiply faster.

Seafood, meat, and poultry. Raw seafood, meat, and poultry should not be rinsed. Bacteria in these raw juices can spread to other foods, utensils, and surfaces, leading to foodborne illness.


Separating foods that are ready-to-eat from those that are raw or that might otherwise contain harmful microbes is key to preventing foodborne illness. Attention should be given to separating foods at every step of food handling, from purchase to preparation to serving.

Separate Foods When Shopping

  • Place raw seafood, meat, and poultry in plastic bags. Separate them from other foods in your grocery cart and bags.
  • Store raw seafood, meat, and poultry below ready-to-eat foods in your refrigerator.
  • Clean reusable grocery bags regularly. Wash canvas and cloth bags in the washing machine and wash plastic reusable bags with hot, soapy water.

Separate Foods When Preparing and Serving Food

  • Always use a clean cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw seafood, meat, and poultry.
  • Always use a clean plate to serve and eat food.
  • Never place cooked food back on the same plate or cutting board that previously held raw food.

Cook and Chill

Seafood, meat, poultry, and egg dishes should be cooked to the recommended safe minimum internal temperature to destroy harmful microbes (see Table A14-1). It is not always possible to tell whether a food is safe by how it looks. A food thermometer should be used to ensure that food is safely cooked and that cooked food is held at safe temperatures until eaten. In general, the food thermometer should be placed in the thickest part of the food, not touching bone, fat, or gristle. The manufacturer’s instructions should be followed for the amount of time needed to measure the temperature of foods. Food thermometers should be cleaned with hot, soapy water before and after each use.

Temperature rules also apply to microwave cooking. Microwave ovens can cook unevenly and leave “cold spots” where harmful bacteria can survive. When cooking using a microwave, foods should be stirred, rotated, and/or flipped periodically to help them cook evenly. Microwave cooking instructions on food packages always should be followed.

Keep Foods at Safe Temperatures

  • Hold cold foods at 40°F or below.
  • Keep hot foods at 140°F or above.
  • Foods are no longer safe to eat when they have been in the danger zone of 40-140°F for more than 2 hours (1 hour if the temperature was above 90°F).
    • When shopping, the 2-hour window includes the amount of time food is in the grocery basket, car, and on the kitchen counter.
    • As soon as frozen food begins to thaw and become warmer than 40°F, any bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to multiply. Use one of the three safe ways to thaw foods: (1) in the refrigerator, (2) in cold water (i.e., in a leak proof bag, changing cold water every 30 minutes), or (3) in the microwave. Never thaw food on the counter. Keep your refrigerator at 40°F or below.
  • Keep your freezer at 0°F or below. Monitor these temperatures with appliance thermometers.

Table A14-1. Recommended Safe Minimum Internal Temperatures

Consumers should cook foods to the minimum internal temperatures shown below. The temperature should be measured with a clean food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least 3 minutes before carving or consuming. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook meat to higher temperatures.

Food Degrees Fahrenheit
Ground Meat and Meat Mixtures
Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb 160
Turkey, Chicken 165
Fresh Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb
Steaks, roasts, chops 145
Chicken and Turkey, whole 165
Poultry breasts, roasts 165
Poultry thighs, wings 165
Duck and Goose 165
Stuffing (cooked alone or in bird) 165
Fresh Pork 160
Fresh Ham (raw) 145
Pre-cooked Ham (to reheat) 140
Eggs and Egg Dishes
Eggs Cook until yolk and white are firm.
Egg dishes 160
Fresh Seafood


Cook fish until it is opaque (milky white) and flakes with a fork.


Cook shrimp, lobster, and scallops until they reach their appropriate color. The flesh of shrimp and lobster should be an opaque (milky white) color. Scallops should be opaque (milky white) and firm.

Cook clams, mussels, and oysters until their shells open. This means that they are done. Throw away the ones that didn't open.

Shucked clams and shucked oysters are fully cooked when they are opaque (milky white) and firm.

Leftovers and Casseroles 165

Risky Eating Behaviors

Harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites usually do not change the look or smell of food. This makes it impossible for consumers to know whether food is contaminated. Consumption of raw or undercooked animal food products increases the risk of contracting a foodborne illness. Raw or undercooked foods commonly eaten in the United States include eggs (e.g., eggs with runny yolks), ground beef (e.g., undercooked hamburger), dairy (e.g., cheese made from unpasteurized milk), and seafood (e.g., raw oysters). Cooking foods to recommended safe minimum internal temperatures and consuming only pasteurized dairy products are the best ways to reduce the risk of foodborne illness from animal products. Always use pasteurized eggs or egg products when preparing foods that are made with raw eggs (e.g., eggnog, smoothies and other drinks, hollandaise sauce, ice cream, and uncooked cookie dough). Consumers who choose to eat raw seafood despite the risks should choose seafood that has been previously frozen, which will kill parasites but not harmful microbes.

Specific Populations at Increased Risk of Foodborne Illness

Some individuals, including women who are pregnant and their unborn children, young children, older adults, and individuals with weakened immune systems (such as those living with HIV infection, cancer treatment, organ transplant, or liver disease), are more susceptible than the general population to the effects of foodborne illnesses such as listeriosis and salmonellosis. The outcome of contracting a foodborne illness for these individuals can be severe or even fatal. They need to take special care to keep foods safe and to not eat foods that increase the risk of foodborne illness. Women who are pregnant, infants and young children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems should only eat foods containing seafood, meat, poultry, or eggs that have been cooked to recommended safe minimum internal temperatures. They also should take special precautions not to consume unpasteurized (raw) juice or milk or foods made from unpasteurized milk, like some soft cheeses (e.g., Feta, queso blanco, queso fresco, Brie, Camembert cheeses, blue-veined cheeses, and Panela). They should reheat deli and luncheon meats and hot dogs to steaming hot to kill Listeria, the bacteria that causes listeriosis, and not eat raw sprouts, which also can carry harmful bacteria.

Resources for Additional Food Safety Information

Federal Food Safety Gateway:

Fight BAC!®:

Be Food Safe:

Is It Done Yet?:


For more information and answers to specific questions:

  • Call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) TTY: 1-800- 256-7072. Hours: 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday, in English and Spanish, or email:
  • Visit “Ask Karen,” FSIS’s Web-based automated response system at