Food

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Research, insights and graphics to inform you and your community.

Food FAQs

Your questions on food safety answered.

Should I wash my hands before and after preparing food?

Yes. You should also wash your hands while you’re preparing food, such as after touching raw meat, eggs, or other items that could spread germs or bacteria. You should also be sure to wash any surfaces, dishes, and utensils right away. Cleanliness is the best way to stop foodborne illnesses caused by bacteria.

When washing your hands, make sure to use soap and running water for at least 20 seconds.

What is the safest way to defrost meat/poultry?

The safest way to thaw frozen food is to plan ahead and leave it in the refrigerator at 40ºF or below. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends a thawing time of 24 hours for every five pounds of weight. Alternatively, you can thaw meat or poultry in the microwave or under cold water. If you did not plan ahead, it is also safe to cook frozen meat, though it will take about 50 percent longer cooking time than it would thawed.

When thawing meat, never leave it out on the counter or in hot water for more than a couple hours, as both of these methods can promote the growth of bacteria.

How can I tell if meat/poultry/seafood/eggs are cooked to the right temperature?

The right temperature varies depending on the cut of meat you are preparing. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC), foods should be cooked to the following temperatures:

FoodTemperature
Ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal160°F / 72°C
Beef, veal and lamb steaks/roasts/chops145°F / 63°C
Poultry (turkey and chicken)165°F / 74°C
Pork and ham (fresh)145°F / 63°C
Pork and ham (precooked)140°F / 60°C
Egg dishes160°F / 72°C
EggsUntil yolk and white are firm
Fish with a fin145° F / 63°C (or until flesh separates easily with a fork)
Shrimp, lobsters, and crabsCook until flesh is opaque and pearly
Clams, oysters, and musselsCook until shells open
ScallopsCook until flesh is opaque and firm
Leftovers and casseroles165°F / 74°C

A meat thermometer is the best way to tell you whether your food has been cooked to a safe minimum temperature.

Is it safer to use a cutting board made of plastic or wood?

Each type of cutting board has advantages and disadvantages, and there is no consensus among experts that one is safer than the other. Multiple studies have shown that the most important factor in cutting board safety is keeping your board clean and in good condition. Experts also suggest that you use multiple cutting boards, reserving one (preferably plastic) for preparing raw meat and another (preferably wood) for vegetables, fruits, breads, and other foods that won’t be cooked. As always, you should clean your cutting board(s) immediately after use to make sure bacteria does not build up on them.

Is it safe to eat raw fruits and vegetables?

Yes, raw produce is extremely healthy and everyone can probably stand to eat more raw fruits and vegetables. However, it is incredibly important to follow safe handling and storage practices so you and your family can enjoy raw produce safely. Best practices include:

  • Choose fruits and vegetables that are not bruised, rotten, wilted, or otherwise damaged.
  • Only buy pre-cut produce that is displayed in a refrigerated section of the market.
  • Bag raw fruits and vegetables separately from your raw meat, poultry, or seafood when you are at the market.
  • Store perishable items in the refrigerator, especially if it is pre-cut or otherwise packaged.
  • Always wash your vegetables under running water before eating or preparing them, even if you do not plan to eat the skin. (Using a produce brush is also a good idea.)
Do all foods need to go in the refrigerator?

Most foods should be refrigerated, but there are some foods that should not be. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln breaks food into three main groups.

  • Perishables: meat, poultry, seafood, milk, eggs and most raw fruits and vegetables. To be stored for any length of time, these foods must go in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Semi-perishables: grains, dried fruit, flour, and other foods. If properly handled, they can be stored for up to a year and may benefit from refrigeration. A small number of fruits and vegetables – including potatoes, tomatoes, onions, bananas, and avocados – should also be left out of the fridge.
  • Non-perishables: canned goods, dry beans and dry spices. These will not spoil unless handled improperly.
How cold should I keep my refrigerator and freezer?

The ideal temperature of your refrigerator is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (but above freezing). Your freezer should at least be below zero. Food quality will be best preserved if the freezer’s temperature is between -10ºF and -20ºF.

When should I refrigerate my leftovers?

Within two hours. That time limit is also a good guide for refrigerating foods brought home from a restaurant or in a “doggie bag.”