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Tips to Avoid Foodborne Illnesses

September is a time when many families are gearing up to go back to school. Coincidentally, it is also National Food Safety Education Month, which is a perfect time to refresh our food safety knowledge and remind busy families about essential tips to fight foodborne illness.


Foods contaminated with pathogenic microorganisms usually do not look bad, taste bad, or smell bad.  It is impossible to determine whether a food is contaminated with pathogenic microorganisms without microbiological testing. To avoid potential food problems, it is crucial to control or eliminate these microorganisms in food products. CDC estimates that Salmonella causes more foodborne illnesses or poisoning in the United States than any other bacteria. Chicken is a significant source of these illnesses, although Salmonella can contaminate a variety of foods. Large Salmonella outbreaks linked to ground beef have also occurred in recent years. Federal agencies and their partners are working along the food chain to prevent Salmonella illnesses associated with chicken and ground beef. You can help prevent Salmonella and other foodborne infections by following food safety advice while preparing your favorite chicken and ground beef dishes.

Take Steps to Prevent Foodborne Illness

As you prepare and handle food, follow these four crucial steps to help prevent foodborne illness (also called food poisoning):

  • Clean: Wash your hands, cutting boards, utensils, and surfaces often when you cook.
  • Separate: Raw meat, chicken, turkey, seafood, and eggs can spread germs. Separate them from cooked food and fresh produce when grocery shopping, in the fridge, and preparation. 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.
  • Cook: Use a food thermometer to make sure foods are cooked to an internal temperature that kills microorganisms. You cannot tell if food is safely cooked by checking its color and texture.
  • Chill: Refrigerate perishable foods that are likely to spoil or go bad quickly and leftovers within 2 hours, or within 1 hour if the food is exposed to temperatures above 90°F. Never defrost food at room temperature. There are three safe ways to defrost food: in the refrigerator, cold water, and microwave. Food thawed in cold water or the microwave should be cooked immediately, and food must be kept at a safe temperature during thawing. Divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers for quicker cooling in the refrigerator.

Food Safety in the Kitchen

  • Use these tools and tips to help prevent food poisoning every time food is prepared in the kitchen.

Kitchen Sink

  • Handwashing is one of the most important things you can do to prevent foodborne illnesses. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and running water. Scrub the backs of your hands,             between your fingers, and under your nails. Wash hands before, during, and after preparing food and before eating.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables under running water before peeling, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Microorganisms can spread from the outside to the inside of fresh produce as you cut or peel.
  • Do not wash raw meat, poultry, or eggs. Washing these foods can spread germs because juices may splash onto the sink or counters.

Cutting Board And Utensils

  • Use separate cutting boards, knives, and plates knives for produce and raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs.
  • Clean all items used to prepare food with hot, soapy water or in a dishwasher after each use.


  • Use a food thermometer to make sure food cooked in the oven, in the microwave, or on the stovetop or grill reaches a temperature hot enough to kill germs.

Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures

  • All poultry, including ground: 165°F
  • Ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal: 160°F
  • Beef, pork, lamb, and veal chops, roasts and steaks: 145°F with a rest 3 minutes before serving
  • Fish: 145°F
  • Bring sauces, soups, and gravy to a boil when reheating—heat other leftovers thoroughly to 165°F.


  • Know the microwave’s wattage. Check inside the door, owner’s manual, or manufacturer’s website. Lower wattage means longer cooking time.
  • Follow recommended cooking and standing times to allow for additional cooking after microwaving stops. After microwaving, letting food sit for a few minutes allows cold spots to absorb heat from hotter areas and cook more completely.
  • When reheating, use a food thermometer to make sure that microwaved food reaches 165°F.


  • Keep the refrigerator between 40˚F and 32˚F and the freezer at 0˚F or below.
  • Refrigerate fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs, and meats within 2 hours. Refrigerate within 1 hour if the temperature outside is above 90ºF.
  • Divide warm foods into several clean, shallow containers so they will chill faster.
  • Store raw meat on the bottom shelf away from fresh produce and ready-to-eat food.
  • Throw out foods left unrefrigerated for over 2 hours.
  • Thaw or marinate foods in the refrigerator.

Look for more tips to keep food safe at and Stay up to date on food recalls at Now that you are geared up for food safety, so do not let an invisible enemy strike by practicing behaviors to help reduce the risk of foodborne illness.


Written by Vicki Hayman, MS, University of Wyoming Extension Nutrition and Food Safety Educator


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Extension Educator:
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Issued in furtherance of extension work, acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kelly Crane, Director, University of Wyoming Extension, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Wyoming Extension, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming 82071.

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