Four Easy Steps

Contributors: Esther Ellis, MS, RDN, LDN
Four Easy Steps


Reduce food poisoning risk with four easy steps.

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans outlines four basic food safety principles: CLEAN, SEPARATE, CHILL and COOK. These principles directly align with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' four simple tips to reduce the risk of food poisoning.

CLEAN - Wash Hands Often

Coupled with the importance of hand-washing, the Dietary Guidelines reminds consumers to thoroughly wash all kitchen surfaces, including appliances, reusable grocery bags, and all produce (even if you plan to peel and cut before eating). For example, the insides of microwaves often become soiled with food, allowing bacteria to grow. By washing both the inside and outside, including handles and buttons, food poisoning may be prevented.

Proper hand-washing may eliminate a large percentage of food poisoning cases and significantly reduce the spread of the common cold and flu.

  • Wash hands before, during and after meal preparation, after using the bathroom, after changing diapers and after handling pets and pet waste.
  • Wash hands in warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don't forget to keep surfaces clean, including shelves, counter tops, tables, refrigerators and freezers.

SEPARATE - Keep Ready-to-Eat Foods Separate from Raw Meat Poultry, Seafood and Eggs

When juices from raw meats or germs from unclean objects accidentally touch cooked or ready-to-eat foods such as fruits and salads, cross-contamination occurs.

  • Prevent cross-contamination by keeping raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs separate from ready-to-eat foods.
  • Use two cuttings boards: one strictly for raw meat, poultry and seafood; the other for ready-to-eat foods including breads and vegetables.
  • Wash cutting boards thoroughly in hot soapy water after each use or place in dishwasher. Use a bleach solution (one tablespoon bleach in one quart water) or other sanitizing solution and rinse with clean water.
  • Discard old cutting boards that have cracks, crevices and excessive knife scars.

CHILL - Refrigerate Promptly to 40 Degrees Fahrenheit or Below

Refrigerate foods promptly and at a proper temperature to slow the growth of bacteria and prevent food poisoning.

  • Make sure your refrigerator is set below 40°F and freezer is at or below 0°F.
  • Keep a refrigerator thermometer in your refrigerator and check it regularly.
  • Refrigerate perishable food as soon as you get home from the store.
  • Refrigerate all leftover foods from a meal within two hours. When outdoors and the temperature is 90°F or warmer, that time is reduced to one hour.
  • Store foods in small, shallow containers (two inches deep or less).
  • Use or discard opened packages of luncheon meats or spreads within three to five days. Consume by the "use-by" date on the package.
  • Thaw food in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in the microwave right before cooking.
  • Marinate foods in the refrigerator, not on the counter.

COOK - Cook to Proper Temperatures

Fish, seafood, meat, poultry and egg dishes should be cooked to the recommended safe minimum internal temperature to destroy any potentially harmful bacteria.

  • Always use a food thermometer to check the doneness of meat, poultry, seafood and dishes containing eggs.
  • Reheat leftovers to at least 165°F. Older adults should reheat all deli-style meats.
  • Boil a meat marinade for several minutes if you plan to re-use it.
  • Use the following quick internal temperature guide:
    • Beef, veal, lamb 145°F (with 3 minutes of rest time)
    • Pork 160°F
    • Poultry 165°F
    • Ground beef, veal, lamb 160°F
    • Ground poultry 165°F
    • Finfish 145°F or until flesh is opaque and flakes with a fork
    • Shellfish cook until flesh is opaque throughout
    • Eggs yolk and white are firm, not runny
    • Casseroles, egg dishes 165°F
    • Leftovers 165°F; boil liquids (soup, gravy)

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