Safe Food Handling Practices in the Home

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year roughly one in six Americans (or 48 million people) become ill, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases caused by eating contaminated food.  A major cause of foodborne disease is improper handling of perishable foods, such as meats and eggs, allowing disease causing organisms to grow. 

One of the core programs of the Solano County Environmental Health Services Division to help prevent foodborne illness is the retail food safety program,” states Solano County Environmental Health Manager Terry Schmidtbauer.  “Each day, Solano County Environmental Health Specialists evaluate various restaurants and markets throughout the county and work with operators to ensure that safe food handling practices are being used to protect public health.” 

Ensuring food safety at retail locations is only part of the solution to reduce the threat of foodborne illness.  Safe food handling practices must also be used at home.  During the holiday season and throughout the year, remember four steps for food safety at home recommended by the United States Food and Drug Administration:

 1.  CLEAN:    Wash hands and surfaces often

  • Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers and handling pets.
  • Wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counter tops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next food item.
  • Consider using paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces. If you use cloth towels wash them often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.
  • Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten.

2.  SEPARATE:    Separate raw meats from other foods

  • Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs separate from other foods.
  • Use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry and seafood.
  • Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs until it is properly cleaned.

3.   COOKCook meat, poultry, seafood and eggs to proper temperatures.  Use a food thermometer to measure the internal temperature of cooked foods.  The United States Food and Drug Administration recommends the following food preparation temperatures for home kitchens:

  •  Ground meat and meat mixtures containing beef, pork, veal or lamb – 160oF
  • Ground meat and meat mixtures containing poultry – 165oF
  • Fresh beef, pork, veal, & lamb – 145oF for 3 minutes
  • Poultry – 165oF
  • Fresh (raw) ham – 160oF
  • Pre-cooked (to reheat) ham – 140o
  • Eggs – Cook until firm 
  • Egg Dishes – 160oF
  • Fish – 145oF or flesh is opaque & separates easily with fork
  • Leftovers & Casseroles – 165oF 

4.  CHILL:    Refrigerate foods promptly

  • Refrigerate or freeze perishables within two hours of cooking or purchasing.  Refrigerate within one hour if the temperature outside is above 90ºF.
  • Never thaw food at room temperature, such as on the counter top.  There are three safe ways to defrost food: in the refrigerator, in cold running water, and in the microwave. Food thawed in cold water or in the microwave should be cooked immediately.
  • Always marinate food in the refrigerator.
  • Divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers for quicker cooling in the refrigerator.

 “Routinely using the safe food handling practices of cleaning, separating, cooking and chilling at home and in our retail food facilities can help prevent foodborne illness and protect the health of our residents and visitors,” Schmidtbauer said.

 For more information about safe food handling practices, you may contact the Solano County Environmental Health Services Division at (707) 784-6765.  Information is also available at and at  Terry Schmidtbauer is with the Environmental Health Services Division of Solano County Department of Resource Management, which is a member of the Solano Coalition for Better Health.