Frequently Asked Questions

Wondering how to take control of home food safety? Here are some answers to consumers' frequently asked questions.

1. What is the biggest/most common mistake when it comes to food safety?
2. What are the "high risk" foods I should avoid?
3. How often should I wash my hands in order to remove germs?
4. How long do I need to wash my hands in order to remove germs?
5. Do anti-bacterial products clean and kill germs as well as washing with soap and water?
6. Are sponges safe to use?
7. I've heard you can clean sponges by putting them in the dishwasher or microwave. Is that true?
8. Which kind of cutting board is best to use: plastic or wood?
9. How do you prevent cross-contamination?
10. How do I know when meats, poultry, egg dishes and leftovers are cooked to the proper temperatures?
11. How cold should I keep my refrigerator?
12. How long can I leave food out of the refrigerator?
13. Is it OK to defrost meat on the kitchen counter?
14. How do I properly care for my refrigerator?


1. What is the biggest/most common mistake when it comes to food safety?

We have identified four major food handling offenses. That's why the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has teamed up to offer four simple tips to promote home food safety:

  1. Wash hands often
  2. Keep raw meats and ready-to-eat foods separate
  3. Cook to proper temperatures
  4. Refrigerate promptly below 40°F.

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2. What are the "high risk" foods I should avoid?

If you handle food properly, you significantly reduce your risk for foodborne illness for all foods. Use our four simple tips so that your food can be delicious and safe to eat.

  1. Wash hands often
  2. Keep raw meats and ready-to-eat foods separate
  3. Cook to proper temperatures
  4. Refrigerate promptly below 40°F.

Certain populations, however, can be at far greater risk of developing serious illness if contracting food poisoning, like pregnant women, very young children, older adults and people with weakened immune systems or certain chronic illnesses.Once contracted, these infections can be difficult to treat, and they can reoccur.

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3. How often should I wash my hands in order to remove germs?

Hands should be washed in warm, soapy water before preparing foods and especially after handling raw meat, poultry and seafood. Never forget to wash your hands after switching tasks, such as handling raw meat and then cutting vegetables. Also, it is important to wash hands after taking out garbage, sneezing or petting your dog or cat.

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4. How long do I need to wash my hands in order to remove germs?

Sing two choruses of "Happy Birthday" while you lather — washing your hands for about 20 seconds. Always wash your hands front and back and up to your wrists, between fingers and under fingernails. Dry your hands with disposable paper towels or clean towels.

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5. Do anti-bacterial products clean and kill germs as well as washing with soap and water?

Washing your hands for 20 seconds with any type of soap in warm water is effective in reducing bacteria. There is no scientific evidence that using anti-bacterial soaps versus ordinary soap reduces the incidence of any disease.

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6. Are sponges safe to use?

Sponges are safe only when cleaned properly. Bacteria live and grow in damp conditions. Wash dishcloths, sponges and towels often in the hot cycle of your washing machine. Disinfect sponges in chlorine bleach solution. Replace worn sponges frequently.

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7. I've heard you can clean sponges by putting them in the dishwasher or microwave. Is that true?

Actually, the preferred method is that you wash them in the hot cycle of your washing machine. It's important to replace worn sponges frequently.

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8. Which kind of cutting board is best to use: plastic or wood?

Plastic, wood, marble or acrylic — you choose. But what's important is that you follow these guidelines:

  • Keep raw meats separate from ready-to-eat foods. Always use two cutting boards: one strictly to cut raw meat, poultry and seafood; another for ready-to-eat foods like breads, fruits and vegetables.
  • Wash cutting boards thoroughly in hot, soapy water after each use.
  • Discard cutting boards that are worn with cracks, crevices and excessive knife scars.

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9. How do you prevent cross-contamination?

There are several areas to consider:

  • Use two cutting boards: one for cutting raw meat, poultry and seafood; another for ready-to-eat foods like breads, fruits and vegetables.
  • Wash plates between uses or use separate plates: one plate for holding raw meat, poultry and seafood; another for cooked foods.
  • Place raw meat, poultry and seafood on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator so juices don't drip onto other foods.
  • Place washed produce into clean storage containers, not back into the original ones.
  • Use two separate clean towels/cloths: one to dry off the kitchen surfaces and another one to dry your hands.
  • Use one utensil to taste food and another to stir and mix food.
  • Make sure you use clean scissors or blades to open bags of food.
  • Wear latex gloves if you have a cut or sore on your hand.

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10. How do I know when meats, poultry, egg dishes and leftovers are cooked to the proper temperatures?

Use a food thermometer. It is the only reliable way to ensure that meats, poultry, egg dishes and leftovers are cooked thoroughly and safe to eat. For example, hamburger should be cooked to at least 160°F and chicken to at least 165°F.

Harmful bacteria are destroyed when food is cooked to proper internal temperatures. Just because the outside looks good, doesn't mean the inside temperature is high enough to kill bacteria. An added benefit is that you will cook to the right temperature for great taste.

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11. How cold should I keep my refrigerator?

Keep your refrigerator set below 40°F. The internal temperature of your refrigerator is based on many variables — for example, the amount of food in storage, the frequency of opening the refrigerator door and the temperature of your kitchen. The best way to monitor the inside cooling temperature of your refrigerator is with a refrigerator thermometer.

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12. How long can I leave food out of the refrigerator?

Food should not be out of refrigeration for more than two hours because it is exposed to temperature above 40°F, where harmful bacteria multiply rapidly. In hot weather (above 90°F), the time is reduced to one hour.

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13. Is it OK to defrost meat on the kitchen counter?

No. Never allow foods to defrost at room temperature on the counter or in warm water. Most foodborne pathogens thrive at room temperature. Two safe ways to defrost food is in your refrigerator or your microwave oven. If you defrost in the refrigerator, remember to cover raw meat and place it on the bottom shelf so raw juices don't drip onto other foods. If using the microwave oven, meat thawed by microwaving must be cooked immediately afterward.

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14. How do I properly care for my refrigerator?

Your refrigerator should always be set to 40°F or below so harmful bacteria cannot grow. Use a digital refrigerator thermometer to make sure your refrigerator doesn't have a fever. In addition, your refrigerator should be free of juices from raw meat, spillage or germs.

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