Food Safety Tips for Your Kitchen

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, RD, LD, MPH on May 02, 2023
4 min read

For many folks, the kitchen is the heart of the home. It’s the place where family and friends bond as they prepare meals. But it’s also a place where potential food poisoning lurks.

You can get food poisoning when you eat or drink something tainted with any number of bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Common symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, and fever.

Usually, these infections are mild and go away on their own. Sometimes, though, it’s so bad you have to go to the hospital.

You can take steps with your kitchen to protect yourself and your family from getting sick in the first place.

Food from animals is definitely a source of concern. Be careful with these raw foods:

  • Eggs
  • Meat and poultry
  • Shellfish
  • Fish in sushi rolls
  • Unpasteurized milk
  • Soft cheeses such as feta and brie, which could be unpasteurized
  • Uncooked hot dogs and deli meats

Animal products aren't the only things that can make you or a loved one sick. Raw fruits and vegetables can be a source of food poisoning. Be mindful of raw sprouts in particular -- alfalfa, bean, clover, etc.

Washing fruits and veggies lowers your chances of contamination, but it doesn’t always get rid of all germs.

You should also be careful when you prepare your food in the kitchen and take it to a picnic or spread it out on a buffet. Foods such as potato salad with mayonnaise can be a great place for germs to multiply if they sit out in a warm place too long.

If meats or dairy have been sitting out for a while, don’t save them. Bacteria in them could release toxins that can’t be destroyed by cooking, refrigeration, or freezing.

Problems usually can be prevented when you handle food safely. Here are some simple steps to make your kitchen a safe zone:

First off, you and everyone in your household should clean and wash your hands with hot, soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food.

You should also wash your hands well after:

  • Using the bathroom
  • Changing diapers
  • Touching pets

Avoid preparing foods if you have diarrhea.

You should also clean your countertops and other surfaces often. Bacteria can spread throughout the kitchen and get onto cutting boards, utensils, sponges, and countertops.

Wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next food.

Use plastic or other nonporous cutting boards. These boards should be run through the dishwasher -- or washed in hot, soapy water -- after each use.

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.

This is especially true when handling raw meat, poultry, and seafood. Keep these foods and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods. When they mix, it’s called cross-contamination.

Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other foods in your grocery shopping cart and in your refrigerator.

Other tips:

  • If possible, use a different cutting board for raw meat products.
  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, and utensils with hot, soapy water after they come in contact with raw meat, poultry, or seafood.
  • Never place cooked food on a plate that just held raw meat, poultry, or seafood.

You need to cook food to the right temperatures to kill the harmful bacteria.

Use a clean thermometer that measures the internal temperature of cooked foods to make sure meat, poultry, casseroles, and other foods are cooked all the way through.

Here’s a few specifics on that:

  • Cook roasts and steaks to at least 145 F.
  • Whole poultry (chicken, turkey, duck) should be cooked to 165 F.
  • Cook ground beef (hamburger) to at least 160 F.
  • Ground chicken or turkey should be cooked to 165 F.
  • Cook fish and shellfish to 145 F 
  • Cook eggs to 160F

Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm. Don't use recipes in which eggs remain raw or only partially cooked.

Fish should flake easily with a fork.

When cooking in a microwave oven, make sure there are no cold spots in food where bacteria can survive. For best results, cover food, stir, and rotate for even cooking. If there is no turntable, rotate dishes by hand once or twice during cooking.

Bring sauces, soups, and gravy to a rolling boil when reheating. Heat other leftovers thoroughly to 165 F.

Refrigerate foods quickly because cold temperatures keep harmful bacteria from growing and multiplying.

Set your refrigerator no warmer than 40 F and the freezer no warmer than 0 F. Check these temperatures from time to time with an appliance thermometer.

Some other tips:

  • Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared food, and leftovers within 2 hours.
  • Never defrost food at room temperature. Thaw food in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in the microwave.
  • Divide large amounts of leftovers into small, shallow containers for quick cooling in the refrigerator.
  • Don't pack the refrigerator full. Cool air must circulate to keep food safe.

We naturally hate to waste food, but don’t be tempted to hold onto food if you aren’t sure about it. Toss it out if:

  • You don’t know how long it’s been sitting out
  • It doesn’t smell or look right.
  • Raw food has touched cooked food