Navigate Up

Food Safety: Preventing Food-Borne Illness

Food safety is extremely important to prevent food-borne illness.

Food-borne illnesses can cause a variety of symptoms. For small children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems, symptoms can be severe and even life-threatening.

The cause of most food-borne illness is bacteria. Some of these bacteria are E. coli, salmonella, staphylococcus aureus, and clostridium botulinum.

You can prevent most food-borne illnesses when you know and use proper ways to handle, store, and prepare food.

Buy and Store Food Safely

  • Do not buy food in damaged packages or cans.

  • Look for expiration dates on food packages. Do not buy outdated foods.

  • Buy only pasteurized milk, cheese, ciders, and juices.

  • Keep raw meat, poultry, and fish in a separate shopping bag. This prevents the juice from dripping onto other food.

  • Place perishable foods in the refrigerator or freezer right away after grocery shopping.

Prepare Food Safely

  • Wash your hands with hot soapy water before and after you prepare foods.

  • Thaw food in the refrigerator or microwave oven, not on the kitchen counter.

  • If possible, have 2 cutting boards. Use 1 cutting board for raw meat, poultry, and seafood, and use the other cutting board or fresh fruits and vegetables.

    If you have only 1 cutting board, prepare fruits and vegetables first, and put them safely out of the way. Wash the cutting board very well with soap and hot water. Then prepare the raw meat, poultry, or seafood. When finished, wash the cutting board again.

  • Cook foods thoroughly to kill harmful bacteria.

  • Use a thermometer to check that meat and poultry are completely cooked. Cook to an internal temperature of:

      • At least 145 F for roasts and steaks

      • 180 F for whole poultry

      • At least 160 F for ground beef

  • Cook fish until it is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.

  • Cook eggs until the white and yolk are firm.

Store Leftover Food Safely

 
  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. For a cold food like pudding, do not let it sit out at room temperature — keep it cold in the refrigerator. When a roast turkey is done, do not store it on the countertop at room temperature — keep it hot (or freeze or refrigerate leftovers). Remember: This rule also applies to foods packed for lunches, picnics, and camping.

  • Keep your refrigerator temperature at 40 F to 45 F. Keep your freezer at 0 F.

  • Refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible.

  • For quick cooling in the refrigerator or freezer, divide large portions of leftovers into small bags or containers.

  • Date leftovers, and use them within 3 to 5 days.

  • Leftovers should be reheated to 165 F.

Food Storage Times

 

Safe storage times for refrigerator and freezer are suggested in the list of foods below:

 

Food Stored Refrigerator Time Freezer Time
Meat (raw) 3 to 5 days 6 to 12 months
Meat (cooked)  3 to 4 days 2 to 3 months
Ground meats (raw) 1 to 2 days 3 to 4 months
Ground meats (cooked) 3 to 4 days 2 to 3 months
Poultry (raw) 1 to 2 days 9 months (parts) 1 year (whole)
Poultry (cooked) 3 to 4 days 4 to 6 months
Lunch meats (open package) 3 to 5 days 1 to 2 months (freezer wrap)
Fish (raw) 1 to 2 days Up to 6 months
Fish (cooked) 3 to 4 days 4 to 6 months
Eggs in shell (raw) 4 to 5 weeks Do not freeze
Eggs in shell (hard cooked) 1 week Do not freeze
Milk A few days past "sell by" date Do not freeze
Cheese (hard, semi-hard)   3 to 4 weeks Can freeze (changes taste and texture)

 

  • DO NOT leave perishable, cooked food at room temperature longer than 2 hours.

  • Remove the stuffing from poultry and meat. Refrigerate them in separate containers.

  • To be safe, discard moldy food.

To Learn More

More information is available from the organizations below:

Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN)
Information line: 1-888-SAFEFOOD (723-3366)
10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays
www.cfsan.fda.gov/~news/whatsnew.html

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Food Safety and Inspection Service
Meat and poultry hotline: 1-888-MPHOTLINE (674-6854)
www.fsis.usda.gov/home/wps/portal/fsis/home

American Dietetic Association
Home Food Safety website
www.homefoodsafety.org/
Telephone: 1-800-877-1600

©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com