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Top 40 Food Safety Tips

Updated on November 30, 2008

With people everywhere trying to stretch their food budgets in these uncertain economic times, it is easy to take shortcuts on food safety and end up in the hospital or worse. Here are the top 40 tips you should follow to ensure that the food you are eating is healthy and safe!

1) Some dried or cured meats can harbor countless germs. It may be a good idea to microwave these meats, then allow them to cool and consume immediately.

2) Packaged chicken should be pink, not gray or yellow. Fresh fish should be shiny and firm and not falling from the bones. It should not have an overly “fishy” smell. Fish should be cooked until it is opaque and flakes easily. Never buy anything if cooked and raw produce are displayed in the same case. That applies to cooked or smoked seafood next to raw fish, or deli meats in the case with raw meat.

3) There is one rule for sushi, sashimi, raw shellfish and tartares. Don’t eat them!

4) Almost a third of all people thaw frozen poultry or meat on the kitchen counter, in the oven or under hot water in the sink. Frozen meats should always be thawed or marinated in a refrigerator set below 39°F (4°C). Check your fridge temperature with an accurate thermometer. More than a third of all fridges are much warmer than 39°F (4°C) and thus unsafe. Freezers must be set to below 30°F (-1°C) and preferably far below that.

5) Four out of five cooks believe that it’s necessary to wait until hot foods are cool before putting them into the refrigerator. Newer refrigerators have sufficient cooling capacity that they can handle warm foods with no problem. Don’t let the temperature of your food drop below 140°F (60°C) on the countertop. Put it in the fridge right away. Refrigerated foods should be stored in small, shallow containers no deeper than 2 inches (5 centimeters). Larger containers can hold heat at the center for longer.

6) Ensure that your food preparation counter is clean and dry. It is important to make sure that any dishes, pots, containers, Tupperware, coolers, wrappers, lunch boxes and bags that are going to come into contact with the food are clean as well.

7) Tightly seal raw or undercooked meats in plastic wrap to prevent juices from coming into contact with other foods. Don’t ever put a plate of raw poultry in the fridge without sealing it completely. Keep meats in a separate container at the bottom of the fridge.

8) Many people don’t realize that leftover gravies, marinades and sauces need to be reheated to a full boil to kill germs. All leftover foods should reach a temperature of 165°F (74°C). Just quickly warming them up in the microwave is not sufficient.

9) If going to a barbecue, it’s best to keep the raw meats in a completely separate cooler from the other foods. The coolers must always be kept below 39°F (4°C). The internal temperature of a cooler left in a closed car on a sunny day can increase by one degree per minute. Make sure the cooler is well cleaned out with soap and water before putting the food inside.

10) The safest foods to take along on a trip are shelf-stable foods such as single-serve cereals or trail mix, canned goods, peanut butter sandwiches and washed fresh fruit and vegetables.

11) Never reuse a grocery bag, and dispose of it at once as it can carry the viruses of the products it contained.

12) If you go to a farmers’ market, go early to avoid produce that has been sitting out all day long and touched by who knows how many hands.

13) Some old-world recipes such as Sauerbraten call for foods to be marinated at room temperature, some for as long as several days. Disregard that. Always marinate in the fridge.

14) Hot dogs from traditional stands may taste great but many have been cooked in water that has never come to the boil, and thus are very dangerous.

15) Rare hamburgers: consider them cyanide on a bun.

16) Obey the expiration dates on packaging, especially for raw poultry and meats.

17) One-third of all people admit to eating pizza the next day that has spent the night at room temperature. If pizza has been out for more than two hours, it must be disposed of.

18) Beware of using the microwave to defrost without thoroughly cleaning the platter and the internal surfaces before placing fresh food inside it.

19) Many people think that if food is picked up from the floor within seconds, it is safe to eat. It never is.

20) When dining at a buffet, remember that food should never be left out at room temperature for more than two hours. If the weather is warmer the safe time becomes shorter. It’s only an hour at 90°F (32°C).

21) Double dipping (dipping a vegetable or chip into a bowl of salsa or dip, biting some off and then dipping again), is a sure way of transmitting germs.

22) One-quarter of office workers keep their packed lunch at their desks instead of in the fridge. Five or six hours at room temperature is plenty of time for germs to multiply.

23) The average workplace fridge is cleaned only about once in two months. All leftovers should be tossed within a few days. And beware of what is in that fridge; I knew a lab worker who kept her lunch in the refrigerator with the stool samples.

24) Many markets and delis place little nibbles of food out for tasting, but most people don’t consider that those samples have come into contact with countless other customers. Avoid eating these.

25) Always place meat at the bottom of the shopping cart, or better yet, in a completely separate area. Shop for meat, poultry and seafood just before checking out and ensure that the packaging is fully sealed and cold to the touch. Keep all meats, poultry and seafood in separate grocery bags from other foods.

26) Roasted chicken, ribs, etc., should always be reheated to 165°F (74°C) once you are ready to eat them. Avoid purchasing whole poultry that’s pre-stuffed but not cooked. The raw meat juices mixing with the stuffing present a perfect environment for the growth of germs.

27) Make sure your turkey stuffing reaches 165°F (74°C) all the way through. Stuffing absorbs juices from the poultry or meat it’s in and can harbor germs if not thoroughly cooked through. It’s best to cook the stuffing separately and then add some hot pan drippings to moisten and flavor.

28) Never eat any poultry unless all juices are running clear and not bloody at all. Rare poultry of any kind is an express ticket to the hospital.

29) The average apple comes into contact with more than 50 people before you take it home and it can pick up viruses at every step of the way. All fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly washed, if possible in a light detergent dilution, not just before eating but also immediately upon arriving at home. Although fresh produce is tasty and full of natural enzymes, to stay safe from germs it is wise to avoid salads and crudités, cook or blanch all vegetables and turn all fruits into cooked compotes. Sprouts such as alfalfa or radish are safest when cooked.

30) One-quarter of all party cocktails and punches containing fruit have not had the fruit washed. All fruit should be carefully and thoroughly washed before being put into drinks. Even if the fruit is to be peeled, it is important to wash it first to help eliminate germs that can spread through cutting and peeling. It is important to ensure that the water you are washing the fruit with is germ-free, so sterilizing tablets or other water treatment should be considered.

31) Don’t purchase any food with mold, bruises or cuts. They are an excellent breeding ground for germs.

32) Ensure that all dairy products and juices are pasteurized. Raw juices can harbor large numbers of germs. If juicing your own vegetables or fruits, wash them carefully first.

33) Remove and discard the outer leaves of lettuce.

34) Keep your foods fresh. Don’t stock up at bulk stores. It’s not a good idea to keep most fresh food for more than three days.

35) Two-thirds of all people never wash the exteriors of cans and bottles before opening them, allowing the contents to get contaminated.

36) At least once every two weeks, scrub the interior of the refrigerator including all shelves and drawers using a clean sponge and warm soapy water. A few drops of bleach in the solution will help. Rinse with plenty of clean water, then dry with paper towels or a clean cloth. Make sure you carefully wipe around the corners and the fridge seals, as they can get very moldy.

37) One of the most basic food safety rules is to separate different cutting boards, dishes and utensils. This is done to minimize cross-contamination. Cross-contamination can occur if you are cutting up some raw chicken and then use the same cutting board to cut the strawberries for dessert. The germs that were present on the chicken have now contaminated the strawberries. Although the contaminants in the chicken will be killed if the chicken is cooked to 180°F (82°C), the strawberries will be eaten raw and thus provide a direct conduit for potentially deadly germs into your system. Therefore, the best thing to do is to set up separate cutting boards, possibly color-coded, for foods to be consumed raw and others that will be well-cooked. Do the same with knives, containers and anything else that comes into contact with potentially contaminated foods. There’s no point using a separate cutting board but the same knife!

38) Discard old cutting boards that have cracks, crevices and excessive knife scars. Those areas can serve as a breeding ground for countless germs.

39) Wash cutting boards thoroughly in hot soapy water after each use or place in dishwasher at the hottest setting available. Use a bleach solution (i.e. one tablespoon [15 milliliters] household bleach in one quart [1 liter] of water) or other sanitizing solution and rinse with clean water.

40) If you're dining at a restaurant that smells bad or has dirty plates, cutlery, etc... put down your fork and RUN AWAY!


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    • profile image

      Linda W. 

      7 years ago

      I argued with a friend that even though it was cold last night,(38 degrees), leaving boneless short ribs in her car trunk 7 hours was not safe. She kept them instead of tossing them.

      What do you think? Thanks for your answer.

    • Hal Licino profile imageAUTHOR

      Hal Licino 

      9 years ago from Toronto

      Thanks! Much better than to be safe than sorry! :)

    • Chin chin profile image

      Chin chin 

      9 years ago from Philippines

      Sometimes following food safety precautions are tedious (washing, sanitizing, checking of temperatures, etc), but at least you are sure you are safe. A huge list of information. Well, safety first...

    • Hal Licino profile imageAUTHOR

      Hal Licino 

      10 years ago from Toronto

      I've eaten in enough filthy greasy spoon diners to know what evil lurks in the hearts of restauranteurs! :)

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 

      10 years ago from Wisconsin

      Very good tips. The last one is the best :)

    • Hal Licino profile imageAUTHOR

      Hal Licino 

      10 years ago from Toronto

      No point saving a few cents on food and its preparation if it lands you in the E.R.! :)

    • glassvisage profile image


      10 years ago from Northern California

      Interesting... I don't know if just not eating sushi is a tip :) I can see that I break a lot of these rules trying to save money

    • Hal Licino profile imageAUTHOR

      Hal Licino 

      10 years ago from Toronto

      Thanks, quicksand. I tried to cram everything in here but the kitchen sink! :) Actually there has been significant research on microwave effects on nutrition and it all points that there is negligible effect vs. more conventional methods of cooking. By far the best way to eat is raw, but I like my pasta al dente, not crunchy! :)

    • quicksand profile image


      10 years ago

      Wow! This is a six-month course condensed into one hub! Plenty of valuable info.

      I used to wonder if microwaves altered the chemistry of food to such an extent that the nutrition value is zeroed. Nowadays for conveniance we microwave almost everything before we stuff 'em into our mouths, right?


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