Summer Food Safety

food-safety-2Studies show that older adults do a better job of handling food safety than any other group. Even so, when it comes to your health and safety, you can never be too careful. Warm summer days make it even more important to be careful about food safety.

Even though we have one of the safest food supplies in the world we still have many cases of food borne illness each year. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 76 million Americans get sick, more than 300,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 die each year from illnesses caused by contaminated foods or beverages. Older adults are at greater risk of getting sick from harmful bacteria in food. Our immune systems weaken as we age, making it easier to get sick in our later years. Also, illnesses associated with advanced age, such as diabetes, cancer, and kidney disease, increase our risk for foodborne illness.

Food Safety Rules

Foodborne illnesses can be prevented by following some basic rules. The four basic rules of food safety are

Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill


Harmful bacteria can spread throughout the kitchen on cutting boards, countertops, utensils and sponges.

Wash Up:

  • Wash your hands, utensils and all surfaces with hot, soapy water before and after preparing food. Remember to wash your hands after using the bathroom or playing with your pets.
  • Cutting boards – wash cutting boards with hot, soapy water after each use.
  • Discard boards that have lots of cuts or scratches on the surface.
  • Keep towels clean. Use paper towels or cloth towels to clean kitchen surfaces. Be sure to wash cloth towels often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.

Handle Fruits and Vegetables Safely:

  • Wash all fruits and vegetables well, before peeling or slicing, under running water. Don’t use soap or other detergents.
  • Cut away any damaged or bruised areas; bacteria can grow in these places.
  • Store cut, peeled and broken apart fruits and vegetables, such as melon balls, cleaned cut carrots and broccoli at or below 40 F in the refrigerator.


  • Wash hands, cutting boards, dishes and utensils with hot soapy water after they touch any raw meat, poultry, or seafood.
  • If possible, use one cutting board for fresh produce and use a separate one for raw meat, poultry and seafood.
  • Never place cooked food back on the same plate that previously held raw food.
  • Separate and keep sealed all raw meats from other foods in your grocery cart and refrigerator.
  • To prevent juices from raw meat, poultry or seafood from dripping onto other foods in the refrigerator, place these raw foods in sealed containers or plastic bags.


Food safety experts agree that foods are properly cooked when they are heated for a long enough time – and at a high enough temperature – to kill harmful bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. These temperatures and times vary depending on the type of food. A food thermometer is the best way to know for sure that the food has cooked to the recommended temperature. The instant-read thermometer is an easy to use safe thermometer. It is not designed to stay in the food during cooking, but is used when you think the food is done. Just insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the food for 15 to 20 seconds and the dial will show the internal temperature. These thermometers are inexpensive and are available at stores that carry kitchen supplies.

Cooking Temperatures

We are most concerned that animal products are cooked to the correct temperature to prevent foodborne illness. Here are a few foods and the recommended temperature:

  • Cook roasts and steaks to at least 160 F
  • Cook chicken and turkey to 165 F
  • Cook ground beef to at least 160 F
  • Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm. Don’t use recipes in which the eggs remain raw or only partially cooked.
  • Fish should be opaque and flake easily with a fork.
  • Once the foods are cooked, serve immediately to prevent bacteria from growing as the food cools. When cooking in a microwave oven, cover food, stir and rotate for even cooking. If you reheat food, leftovers should be heated to 165 F.
  • Bring all sauces, soups and gravies to a rolling boil to make sure all harmful bacteria are killed.


Chilling foods properly is just as important as cooking them safely. Germs grow fast between 40 F and 140 F – referred to as the Danger Zone

  • You can slow or prevent germs from growing on the food by refrigerating quickly.
  • Check the temperature of your refrigerator, it should be at 40 F or below.


  • Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared foods and leftovers within 2 hours. If the temperature is 90 F or above they should be refrigerated within one hour.
  • Never deforst food at room temperature. Thaw food in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave if it will be cooked immediately.
  • Separate large amounts of leftovers into small, shallow containers for quicker cooling in the refrigerator.

Traveling with Food:

Remember when you bring food home from the grocery store or leftovers home from a restaurant it must be refrigerated within 2 hours of purchase or serving. Any perishable food left at room temperature for longer that 2 hours should be thrown away.

Be sure to follow these four rules – Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill to have a safe and healthy summer.


Courtesy of the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences


food safety

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