Basic Food Safety Guidelines

To ensure the foods you serve are safe to eat, follow these basic, but important, food safety rules.

Keep it clean. Before handling any food, thoroughly wash your hands in hot soapy water. Make sure all work surfaces, cutting boards, knives and any other utensils have been cleaned in hot soapy water. And, after handling raw food, clean hands and utensils in hot soapy water.

Cutting boards can be sanitized with a mixture of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach in 1 quart of water. Allow the bleach water to stand on the cutting board for several minutes before rinsing. Let the board air dry or dry with clean paper towels.

Keep it separate. Don't cross-contaminate foods, which means allowing the juices of raw meats, poultry and fish to come in contact with other foods. Reusing a cutting board, countertop, sink, plate, knife or other utensil that came in contact with raw meat without first thoroughly washing it in hot, soapy water can cause cross-contamination. Never reuse the package material, such as foam meat trays or plastic wrap, from meat, poultry or fish.

It is not recommended that you wash raw poultry, beef, veal, pork, lamb or seafood before cooking. Any bacteria that may be present on the surface of these foods will be destroyed by properly cooking the food. Washing these items will contaminate the sink, which can cause cross-contamination if not cleaned right away.

Pantry Storage

Check the sell-by or use-by dates on pantry items. Discard items that are past those dates. In the pantry, store opened items tightly closed and place in a cool dry place.

Refrigerated Foods

The use-by date on refrigerated items is only for the unopened item. Use the times given in the chart for opened foods. Keep refrigerator temperatures between 34°-40°F. In the refrigerator, store leftovers in covered refrigerator containers or wrap them in plastic wrap or foil. Resealable plastic bags also are great for storage.

Frozen Foods

For the best quality, foods should be frozen in a freezer that maintains 0°F and is at least two-thirds full. Cool cooked food quickly before freezing. Store food in containers that are moisture-proof and vapor-proof, such as foil, freezer bags, freezer wrap and plastic freezer containers. Remove as much air as possible when packaging the food. Label and date packages before freezing. Spread out the packages for quicker freezing. Stack them after they are solidly frozen.

Defrost foods in the refrigerator, microwave oven or cold water. Generally, small items will defrost overnight in the refrigerator. Most items take 1 or 2 days and bulky, large items will take even longer to thaw. To defrost in a microwave oven, follow the manufacturer's directions. To defrost in cold water, place food in a water-tight plastic storage bag. Place bag in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the food is thawed.