Tips for College Students

Contributors: Sarah Klemm, RDN, CD, LDN
college students sitting on grass

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As college students across the country get ready to leave home and head to school, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offer food safety tips for students who will be making their own home-cooked meals in the year ahead. Start this year off right by keeping the following safety tips in mind when preparing food in the dorm or apartment.

Wash Hands and Clean Cooking Surfaces Often

Proper hand washing may help reduce your risk of food poisoning and the common cold and flu. Keeping food preparation surfaces clean also helps reduce bacteria and prevent cross-contamination.

  • Wash hands for 20 seconds in clean, soapy water before, during and after working with food.
  • When sharing a kitchen with roommates, always assume that surfaces such as appliances and counter tops should be cleaned before you start preparing food.
  • Replace or sanitize sponges regularly. Damp sponges can be microwaved or run through the dishwasher to help destroy the bacteria they may be carrying.

Keep Raw Meats and Ready-to-Eat Foods Separate

Cross-contamination occurs when juices from raw meats or germs from unclean utensils touch cooked or ready-to-eat foods, such as fruits or salads. This may lead to food poisoning.

  • Place raw meat, or frozen meat that’s thawing, on a covered plate on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Keep raw meat away from fruits, vegetables or ready-to-eat lunch meats.
  • When grilling at a tailgate party, make sure to pack extra or color-coded plates and utensils to help prevent cross-contamination; use one set for raw foods and another for cooked foods.

Cook to Proper Temperatures

Harmful bacteria are destroyed when food is cooked to proper internal temperatures. Buy a food thermometer and use it!

  • Microwave frozen meals carefully according to package directions so that they reach the proper internal temperature.
  • Reheat leftovers to at least 165°F.

Refrigerate Promptly

Refrigerate foods quickly and at a proper temperature to slow the growth of bacteria and reduce your risk of foodborne illness.

  • Keep the refrigerator closed as often as possible and don't store perishable foods, such as milk and eggs, in the door.
  • Label leftovers with the date they were prepared. This way, you know how long they've been in the refrigerator. Leftovers should be eaten or frozen within three to four days.
  • Use perishable foods before they go bad. Deli meats and cooked pasta are freshest when consumed within three to five days, leftover pizza within three to four days and cooked rice within four to six days.
  • When tailgating, pack food in a well-insulated cooler with plenty of ice or icepacks to keep the temperature below 40°F.

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