Food Safety at Home

Just follow four basic rules -- Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill -- and you will Fight BAC!® (bacteria that can cause foodborne illness).  Fight BAC!® is a national education campaign designed to teach everyone about food safety.  Keep these Fight BAC!® rules in mind.  Tell your friends and family and grandchildren to join the team and get them to be "BAC-Fighters" too.

Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often

Bacteria can be present throughout the kitchen, including on cutting boards, utensils, sponges and counter tops.  Here's how to Fight BAC!®

  • Wash your hands with warm water and soap before and after handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers and handling pets.
  • Wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counter tops with hot water and soap after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next food.  Periodically, kitchen sanitizers (including a solution of 1 Tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of water) can be used for added protection.
  • Once cutting boards (including plastic, non-porous, acrylic and wooden boards) become excessively worn or develop hard-to-clean grooves, you should replace them.
  • 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.

Also Important:  Rinse raw produce in water.  Don't use soap or other detergents.  If necessary -- and appropriate -- use a small vegetable brush to remove surface dirt.

Separate: Don't cross-contaminate

Cross-contamination is the scientific word for how bacteria can be spread from one food product to another.  This is especially true when handling raw meat, poultry and seafood, so keep these foods and their juices away from foods that aren't going to be cooked.  Here's how to Fight BAC!®

  • Separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from other foods in your grocery-shopping cart and in your refrigerator.
  • If possible, use a different cutting board for raw meat, poultry and seafood products.
  • Always wash cutting boards, dishes and utensils with hot, soapy water after they come in contact with raw meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and unwashed fresh produce.
  • Place cooked food on a clean plate.  If you put cooked food on the unwashed plate that held raw food (like meat, poultry or seafood), bacteria from the raw food could contaminate your cooked food.

Cook: Cook to proper temperatures

Food safety experts agree that foods are safely cooked when they are heated for a long enough time and at a high enough temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness.  The best way to Fight BAC!® is to:

  • Use a clean food thermometer, which measures the internal temperature of cooked foods, to make sure meat, poultry, and other foods are safely cooked all the way through.
  • Cook beef, veal, and lamb roasts and steaks to at least 145°F.  Cook all poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F or to higher temperatures according to personal preference.
  • Cook ground beef, where bacteria can spread during processing, to at least 160°F.  Check the temperature with a food thermometer.
  • Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm.  Don't use recipes in which eggs remain raw or only partially cooked.
  • Fish should be opaque and flake easily with a fork.
  • When cooking in a microwave oven, make sure there are no cold spots in food where bacteria can survive.  To do this, cover food, stir and rotate the dish by hand once or twice during cooking.  (Unless you have a turntable in the microwave.)  Use a food thermometer to make sure foods have reached a safe internal temperature.
  • If you are reheating food, leftovers should be heated to 165°F.  Bring sauces, soup and gravy to a boil.

Apply the Heat!

Cooking food -- especially raw meat, poultry, fish and eggs -- to a safe minimum internal temperature kills harmful bacteria.  Thoroughly cook food as follows*:

Raw Food                                                    Internal Temperature

Ground Products

Beef, veal, lamb, pork                                                            160°F

Chicken, turkey                                                                       165°F

Beef, Veal, Lamb Roasts & Steaks

medium-rare                                                                           145°F

medium                                                                                   160°F

well-done                                                                                170°F


Chops, roast, ribs

medium                                                                                  160°F

well-done                                                                               170°F

Ham, fully cooked                                                                 140°F

Ham, fresh                                                                             160°F

Sausage, fresh                                                                      160°F

Poultry (Turkey & Chicken)

Whole bird                                                                   at least 165°F

Breast                                                                          at least 165°F

Legs & thighs                                                             at least 165°F

Stuffing (cooked separately)                                                  165°F


Fried, poached                                                 yolk & white are firm

Casseroles                                                                               160°F

Sauces, custards                                                                     160°F

Fish flakes with a fork


*This chart provides guidance for cooking foods at home.

Thermometer Tips

Use a food thermometer to make sure foods have been properly cooked to a safe internal temperature.  Plus you won't over cook your food.

There are several types of thermometers available.

  • Dial oven-safe:  This type of thermometer is inserted into the food at the beginning of the cooking time and remains in the food throughout cooking.

By checking the thermometer as the food cooks, you will know exactly when thick cuts of meat, such as roasts or turkeys, are cooked to the safe temperature.  This type of thermometer is not appropriate for use with food that is thin, like boneless chicken breast.

  • Dial instant-read:  This thermometer is not designed to stay in the food during cooking.

When you think the food is cooked to the safe temperature, you check it with the instant-read thermometer.  To do this, insert the instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the food.  Insert to the point marked on the probe -- usually to a depth of 2 inches.  About 15 to 20 seconds are required for the temperature to be accurately displayed.

This type of thermometer can be used with thin food, such as chicken breasts or hamburger patty -- simply insert the probe sideways, making sure that the tip of the probe reaches the center of the meat.

  • Digital instant-read:  This type of thermometer does not stay in the food during cooking -- you check the temperature when you think the food is cooked.

The advantage of this type of thermometer is that the heat-sensing device is in the tip of the probe.  Place the tip of the probe in the center of the thickest part of the food -- at least 1/2 inch deep.  About 10 seconds are required for the temperature to be accurately displayed.

This type of thermometer is good to use for checking the temperature of a thin food like a hamburger patty.  Just insert the probe from the top or sideways to a depth of 1/2 inch.

(FYI: Pop-up timers are reliable within 1 to 2 degrees, but it's best to check with a food thermometer.)

Chill:  Did You Know?

At room temperature, bacteria in food can double every 20 minutes.  The more bacteria there are, the greater the chance you could become sick.

So, refrigerate foods quickly because cold temperatures keep most harmful bacteria from multiplying.  A lot of people think it will harm their refrigerator to put hot food inside -- it's not true.  It won't harm your refrigerator and it will keep your food -- and you -- safe.

Set your home refrigerator to 37°F or below and the freezer unit to 0°F or below.  Check the temperature occasionally with an refrigerator  thermometer.

Then, Fight BAC!® by following these steps:

  • Refrigerate or freeze perishable, prepared food and leftovers within 2 hours (1 hour when the temperature is above 90°F).  Do not consume food that has been left out for more than 2 hours.
  • Divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers for quick cooling in the refrigerator.

Safe Thawing:

Never thaw foods at room temperature.  You can safely thaw food in the refrigerator.  Four to five pounds takes 24 hours to thaw.

You can also thaw food outside the refrigerator by immersing in cold water.  Change the water every half hour to keep the water cold.  Cook immediately after thawing.

You can thaw food in the microwave, but if you do, be sure to continue cooking right away.


  • Marinate foods in the refrigerator.
  • Don't pack the refrigerator too full.  Cold air must circulate to keep food safe.
  • Refrigerate foods to maintain quality as well as keep them safe.  Some bacteria grow and multiply -- although very slow -- at refrigerated temperatures.  There is a limit to the time various foods will stay fresh and safe in a refrigerator.  Food kept continuously frozen at 0°F will always be safe but the quality suffers with lengthy freezer storage.

(Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration and New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets)