4 Food Safety Tips To Remember When Cooking At Home

by Sarah Limbert, RDN, LD

Last Updated: May 26, 2020

Pandemic or not, food safety should always be a part of our routine. However, in this time of constant handwashing and sanitation, the safety of our food is more important than ever. From the grocery store to the dinner table, here are 4 strategies to keep our food safe from start to finish.
  1. Cleaning produce is critical.
    Cleaning fresh produce should be an essential step in your meal prep. Be sure to wash before chopping- even if the skin is not edible. Chopping unwashed produce may cause the knife to drag bacteria from the outer skin into the parts of the produce that will be eaten. For fruits and vegetables with firmer skins, you can even wash with a scrub brush (sure to use a different scrub brush than the one that is used when cleaning dishes). Some produce is marked “pre-washed.” In this instance, repeated washing is optional, no required. For completely clean produce, be sure to clean and sanitize all utensils and surfaces that will come into contact with the food. And as always, start with clean, washed hands.
  2. How you store food matters.
    A major source of foodborne illness is the growth of bacteria on raw foods, and the transfer of this same bacteria to ready-to-eat foods. To reduce the risk of cross-contamination, separate raw eggs, meat, poultry and seafood from all other foods. Be sure to keep these items separate in the grocery cart, shopping bags, and the refrigerator. Storing raw meats, poultry and seafood at the bottom of the refrigerator can help ensure that their juices don’t drip onto other foods, like fresh produce. It’s also important to be sure that these foods are stored in the main compartment of the fridge as the temperature in the door of the refrigerator can vary.
  3. Get cooking- safely.
    This is our favorite step! Cooking food to the correct temperature will ensure that your food does not contain high levels of bacteria that could cause foodborne illness. Follow this chart to determine the appropriate internal temperature for foods. When checking temperatures, be sure to place the food thermometer in the thickest part of the food.
  4. Chill out.
    Keeping our foods at the correct temperatures is important to prevent the growth of bacteria after cooking. The first step is to be sure the refrigerator is consistently kept at a temperature of 40 degrees or below, and the freezer below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to keep foods outside of the ‘temperature danger zone’ of 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit. This range of temperatures is where bacteria grow the fastest. Make sure food returns to the correct temperature for storage (less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit) within 2 hours of cooking. A special note with the summer heat on the horizon- be sure to refrigerate foods within 1 hour of being in temperatures 90 degrees Fahrenheit and above. Got leftovers? Check out this chart from the CDC to use as a guide for safe leftover storage and use.
Food safety is important all the time. However, as we are more focused than ever on staying healthy and out of the hospital, it’s a key time to ensure that you’re doing all you can to avoid foodborne illness. Paying attention to times and temperatures will help keep your food fresh, safe, and delicious for as long as possible.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.

Sarah Limbert, RDN, LD

Sarah Limbert, RDN, LD

Sarah has experience working with patients on everything from weight loss to fertility, to seizure management. She’s a true expert on how patients can benefit from ‘food as medicine,’ all while maintaining their lifestyle and livelihood. In her spare time, she leads a non-profit focused on providing basic needs and creating a future for children in India, Kenya and locally in Cincinnati.