Food safety refers to the conditions and practices that preserve the quality of food to prevent contamination and foodborne illnesses.
Food can be contaminated in many different ways. Some food products may already contain bacteria or parasites. These germs can be spread during the packaging process if the food products are not handled properly. Improperly cooking or storing food can also cause contamination.
Properly handling, storing, and preparing food greatly reduces the risk of getting foodborne illnesses.
All foods can become contaminated. Higher risk foods include red meats, poultry, eggs, cheese, dairy products, raw sprouts, and raw fish or shellfish.
Poor food safety practices can cause infection from a foodborne illness. Symptoms of foodborne illnesses vary, but they usually include stomach problems. Foodborne illnesses may be severe and life-threatening, especially in young children, older adults, pregnant women, and people who have a weakened immune system.
- Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling any food.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom or changing diapers.
- Wash your hands after touching animals.
- Wash all cutting boards and utensils with hot water and soap after preparing each food item and before moving on to the next food item.
- If your hands have any cuts or sores, wear gloves suitable for handling food or avoid preparing food.
- Avoid cross-contaminating food items. Separate meat, poultry, and seafood from other foods during preparation. Always wash your hands, utensils, and cutting board after they come into contact with these products.
- Cook food to the correct temperature. Red meats should be cooked to reach an internal temperature of 160°F. Poultry should reach an internal temperature of 180°F. Reheat leftovers to an internal temperature of least 165°F. Cook eggs until the white and yolk are firm. Fish should have an opaque appearance and flake easily.
- Refrigerate or freeze food promptly. Some foods, such as meat and poultry, must be frozen if they are not used within 1 to 2 days. Leftovers should be refrigerated within 2 hours of serving. Keep frozen foods in the freezer until they are ready to be thawed and cooked.
- Food can also be contaminated before it is purchased. Watch for and do not buy or use outdated food, packaged food with a broken seal, or cans that have a bulge or dent. Do not use foods that have an unusual odor or appearance, or a spoiled taste.
- Prepare home-canned foods in clean conditions and be very careful during the canning process. Home-canned foods are the most common cause of botulism.
Food - hygiene and sanitation
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Food safety. Accessed May 3, 2014. Available at: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Food safety. Accessed May 3, 2014. Available at: http://www.foodsafety.gov/.
Update Date 5/5/2014
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.