10 Common Food Safety Mistakes

Reviewed by Wendy Marcason, RDN
x marking mistake

triloks/iStock/Thinkstock

Handling foods safely is much more than throwing away expired milk or washing your fruits and vegetables. While these actions are important, there are several more common food safety mistakes that can result in major consequences.

Don't be one of the 48 million Americans sickened by food poisoning each year. Avoid these 10 common yet dangerous food safety mistakes.

10 Common Food Safety Mistakes

  1. Mistake #1: Tasting food to see if it's still good
    Never taste your food to check if it has spoiled. You can't taste, see or even smell the bacteria that causes food poisoning, and tasting just a tiny bit of contaminated food can cause serious illness. Be sure to throw away all expired food before harmful bacteria grows.
  2. Mistake #2: Putting cooked or ready-to-eat foods back on a plate that held raw meat
    Never let raw meat, poultry or seafood touch cooked meat or any ready-to-eat foods, as this can cause cross-contamination. Foodborne pathogens from the raw meat can easily spread to ready-to-eat foods and cause food poisoning, yet according to our 2011 Consumer Knowledge of Home Food Safety Practices Survey, 24% of Americans report not properly separating these foods. Make sure you always use separate plates, cutting boards and utensils to keep raw meats, poultry and seafood separate from ready-to-eat foods.
  3. Mistake #3: Thawing food on the counter
    Never thaw food on the counter. Harmful foodborne pathogens multiply rapidly when foods are in the danger zone between 40°F and 140°F. Instead, always thaw foods in the refrigerator, cold water or in the microwave. Do you know that an impressive 62 percent of those surveyed thaw foods in the refrigerator? Just make sure you're not one of the 38 percent that doesn't thaw food safely.
  4. Mistake #4: Washing meat or poultry 
    Never wash raw meat or poultry because the water can easily spread bacteria to your sink, countertops and other kitchen surfaces. Only wash raw fruits and vegetables. Learn more about washing produce.
  5. Mistake #5: Letting food cool before putting it in the fridge
    Don't leave food out of the refrigerator for more than two hours or one hour if it is over 90°F outside. Illness-causing bacteria can grow rapidly when perishables are left in the danger zone — between 40°F and 140°F. Instead, always refrigerate foods in a timely matter. If you are on a road trip, tailgating or picnicking be sure to pack perishable foods in a well-insulated cooler. An impressive 79 percent say they properly store leftovers within two hours of serving.
  6. Mistake #6: Eating raw cookie dough or batter (and other foods containing uncooked eggs)
    Never eat any raw eggs because they may contain Salmonella or other harmful bacteria. Instead, cook eggs thoroughly, avoid foods that contain raw or undercooked eggs.
  7. Mistake #7: Marinating meat or seafood on the counter / using raw meat marinade on cooked food
    Never marinate meat, poultry or seafood on the counter or use the same marinade for raw meat and cooked food. If you marinate on the counter, harmful germs can multiple rapidly when left in the danger zone — between 40°F and 140°F. In addition, if you use the same marinade on raw and cooked meats, the harmful bacteria from the raw food can spread to the cooked food. Always marinate raw meat, seafood and poultry in the refrigerator and only reuse marinade if you bring it to a boil just before using.
  8. Mistake #8: Undercooking meat, poultry, seafood or eggs
    Cooked food is safe only after it’s been heated to a high enough internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria. In order to avoid eating undercooked foods, you must use a food thermometer – the only way to determine if cooked foods are safe to eat. Do not rely solely upon sight, smell or taste to tell whether your food is done. Did you know that according to the 2011 Consumer Knowledge of Home Food Safety Practices Survey only 20 percent of those surveyed use a food thermometer to check the doneness of red meat, pork or poultry and 43 percent of people don’t know the safe minimum internal temperature of ground meat? Don't fall prey to this very common mistake.
  9. Mistake #9: Not washing your hands
    Illness-causing bacteria can survive in many places – including on your hands. Washing your hands the right way can stop the spread of these bacteria. Shockingly enough, only 40 percent of those surveyed wash their hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds all of the time. Always wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm running water.
  10. Mistake #10: Not replacing sponges and dish rags
    Ironically, sponges, dishrags and items used to clean are some of the dirtiest tools in your kitchen. Sponges and dishrags can hold on to harmful foodborne pathogens and cause a serious health risk. Always sanitize your sponges at least every other day and replace them every week or two for best protection against germs. Here is more information on sponge safety and how to sanitize your sponge.

Find An Expert

Need serious help making a plan? The nutrition experts in our professional membership are ready to help you create the change to improve your life.

Search Now