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Food Safety

Editor’s note: I adapted this from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which is a trustworthy source of food safety information. Its title is “for Pregnant Women” but it really applies to everyone.

Click here for the original pamphlets:

Food Safety for Pregnant Women (PDF - 2.03MB)

En español (Spanish) (PDF - 2.69MB)

Some key points:

  • Pregnant women and young children are especially vulnerable to becoming sick from food.

  • Some foods you might have thought were safe (like bologna, or smoked fish) can cause serious illness.

  • Keeping foods in the refrigerator doesn’t guarantee they are safe (Listeria, a very bad germ, can grow in the refrigerator!)

  • Raw and undercooked meats and fish are risky. So are uncooked vegetables.  Read the whole pamphlet (follow the link above) to keep yourself and your family safe!

    • The food supply in the United States is among the safest in the world – but it can still be a source of infection for all persons.

    • Pregnant women and their unborn children have a higher risk of developing certain foodborne illnesses. Others who also have a higher risk include young children, the elderly, and people with a weakened immune system.

More Information on Food Safety

Contact the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service and HHS Food and Drug Administration to obtain additional food safety information in both English and Spanish.

Additional Food Safety Resources

1. Clean:  Wash hands and surfaces often

Bacteria can spread throughout the kitchen and get onto cutting boards, utensils, counter tops, and food. 

To ensure that your hands and surfaces are clean, be sure to:
Wash hands in warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food and using the bathroom, changing diapers, or handling pets.

  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with hot soapy water between the preparation of raw meat, poultry, and seafood products and preparation of any other food that will not be cooked. As an added precaution, sanitize cutting boards and counter tops by rinsing them in a solution made of one tablespoon of unscented liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water, or, as an alternative, you may run the plastic board through the wash cycle in your automatic dishwasher.

  • Use paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces.  If using cloth towels, you should wash them often in the hot cycle of the washing machine.

  • Wash produce. Rinse fruits and vegetables, and rub firm-skin fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten.

  • With canned goods: remember to clean lids before opening.

2. Separate:  Don’t cross-contaminate

Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria are spread from one food product to another.  This is especially common when handling raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs.  The key is to keep these foods – and their juices – away from ready-to-eat foods.

To prevent cross-contamination, remember to:

  • Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs from other foods in your grocery shopping cart, grocery bags, and in your refrigerator. 

  • Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs without first washing the plate with hot soapy water.

  • Don’t reuse marinades used on raw foods unless you bring them to a boil first.

  • Consider using one cutting board only for raw foods and another only for ready-to-eat foods, such as bread, fresh fruits and vegetables, and cooked meat.

3. Cook: Cook to safe temperatures

Foods are safely cooked when they are heated to the USDA-FDA recommended safe minimum internal temperatures, as shown on the “Is it Done Yet” chart.

To ensure that your foods are cooked safely, always: 

  • Use a food thermometer to measure the internal temperature of cooked foods.  Check the internal temperature in several places to make sure that the meat, poultry, seafood, or egg product is cooked to safe minimum internal temperatures.

  • Cook ground beef to at least 160 ºF and ground poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 ºF.  Color of food is not a reliable indicator of safety or doneness.

  • Reheat fully cooked hams packaged at a USDA-inspected plant to 140 ºF. For fully cooked ham that has been repackaged in any other location or for leftover fully cooked ham, heat to 165 ºF. 

  • Cook seafood to 145 ºF.  Cook shrimp, lobster, and crab until they turn red and the flesh is pearly opaque.  Cook clams, mussels, and oysters until the shells open.  If the shells do not open, do not eat the seafood inside.

  • Cook eggs until the yolks and whites are firm.  Use only recipes in which the eggs are cooked or heated to 160 ºF.

  • Cook all raw beef, lamb, pork, and veal steaks, roasts, and chops to 145 ºF with a 3-minute rest time after removal from the heat source.

  • Bring sauces, soups, and gravy to a boil when reheating. Heat other leftovers to 165 ºF.

  • Reheat hot dogs, luncheon meats, bologna, and other deli meats until steaming hot or 165 ºF.

  • When cooking in a microwave oven, cover food, stir, and rotate for even cooking.  If there is no turntable, rotate the dish by hand once or twice during cooking.  Always allow standing time, which completes the cooking, before checking the internal temperature with a food thermometer. Food is done when it reaches the USDA- FDA recommended safe minimum internal temperature.

4. Chill: Refrigerate promptly

Cold temperatures slow the growth of harmful bacteria. Keeping a constant refrigerator temperature of 40 °F or below is one of the most effective ways to reduce risk of foodborne illness. Use an appliance thermometer to be sure the refrigerator temperature is consistently 40 °F or below and the freezer temperature is 0 °F or below.

To chill foods properly:

  • Refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, and other perishables within 2 hours of cooking or purchasing. Refrigerate within 1 hour if the temperature outside is above 90 °F.

  • Never thaw food at room temperature, such as on the counter top. It is safe to thaw food in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. If you thaw food in cold water or in the microwave, you should cook it immediately.
    Divide large amounts of food into shallow containers for quicker cooling in the refrigerator.

  • Follow the recommendations in the abridged USDA-FDA Cold Storage Chart (below). The USDA-FDA Cold Storage Chart in its entirety may be found at Refrigeration and Food Safety.

Follow these safe food-handling practices while you shop.

  • Carefully read food labels while in the store to make sure food is not past its “sell by” date.

  • Put raw packaged meat, poultry, or seafood into a plastic bag before placing it in the shopping cart so that its juices will not drip on – and contaminate – other foods. If the meat counter does not offer plastic bags, pick some up from the produce section before you select your meat, poultry, and seafood.

  • Buy only pasteurized milk, cheese, and other dairy products from the refrigerated section. When buying fruit juice from the refrigerated section of the store, be sure that the juice label says it is pasteurized.

  • Purchase eggs in the shell from the refrigerated section of the store. (Note: store the eggs in their original carton in the main part of your refrigerator once you are home.) For recipes that call for eggs that are raw or undercooked when the dish is served – homemade Caesar salad dressing and homemade ice cream are two examples – use either shell eggs that have been treated to destroy Salmonella by pasteurization or pasteurized egg products. When consuming raw eggs, using pasteurized eggs is the safer choice. 

  • Never buy food that is displayed in unsafe or unclean conditions.

  • When purchasing canned goods, make sure that they are free of dents, cracks, or bulging lids.  (Once you are home, remember to clean each lid before opening the can.)

  • Purchase produce that is not bruised or damaged.

  • Check Your Steps:

    • Check “Sell-By” date. 

    • Put raw meat, poultry, or seafood in plastic bags

    • Buy only pasteurized milk, soft cheeses made with pasteurized milk, and pasteurized or juices that have been otherwise treated to control harmful bacteria.

    • When buying eggs, purchase refrigerated shell eggs. If your recipe calls for raw eggs, purchase pasteurized, refrigerated liquid eggs.

    • Don’t buy food displayed in unsafe or unclean conditions

Being Smart When Eating Out

Eating out can be lots of fun – so make it an enjoyable experience by following some simple guidelines to avoid foodborne illness.  Remember to observe your food when it is served, and don’t ever hesitate to ask questions before you order.  Waiters and waitresses can be quite helpful if you ask how a food is prepared.  Also, let them know you don’t want any food item containing raw meat, poultry, seafood, sprouts, or eggs.

Basic Rules for Ordering

  • Ask whether the food contains uncooked ingredients such as eggs, sprouts, meat, poultry, or seafood.  If so, choose something else.

  • Ask how these foods have been cooked.  If the server does not know the answer, ask to speak to the chef to be sure your food has been cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature.

  • If you plan to get a “doggy bag” or save leftovers to eat at a later time, refrigerate perishable foods as soon as possible – and always within 2 hours after purchase or delivery. If the leftover is in air temperatures above 90 °F, refrigerate within 1 hour.

If in doubt, make another selection!

Foodborne Illness: Know the Symptoms

Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself in a situation where you suspect you have a foodborne illness.  Foodborne illness often presents itself with flu-like symptoms.

These symptoms include:

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Fever

If you suspect that you could have a foodborne illness, there are four key steps that you should take. Follow the guidelines in the Foodborne Illness Action Plan (below), which begins with contacting your physician or healthcare provider right away.

When in doubt – contact your physician or healthcare provider!

Foodborne Illness Action Plan

If you suspect you have a foodborne illness, follow these general guidelines:

  1. Consult your physician or healthcare provider, or seek medical treatment as appropriate.
    As a pregnant woman, you are at increased risk for severe infection.

  • Contact your physician immediately if you develop symptoms or think you may be at risk.

  • If develop signs of infection as discusses with your physician, seek out medical advice and/or treatment immediately.

2. Preserve the food.

  • If a portion of the suspect food is available, wrap it securely, label it to say “DANGER,” and freeze it.

  • The remaining food may be used in diagnosing your illness and in preventing others from becoming ill.

3. Save all the packaging materials, such as cans or cartons.

  • Write down the food type, the date and time consumed, and when the onset of symptoms occurred. Write down as many foods and beverages you can recall consuming in the past week (or longer), since the onset time for various foodborne illnesses differ.

  • Save any identical unopened products.

  • If the suspect food is a USDA-inspected meat, poultry, or egg product, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, 1-888-MPHotline (188-674-6854). For all other foods, call the FDA office of Emergency Operations at 1-866-300-4374 or 301-796-8240.

4. Call your local health department …
… if you believe you became ill from food you ate in a restaurant or other food establishment.

  • The health department staff will be able to assist you in determining whether any further investigation is warranted.

  • To locate your local health department, visit Health Guide USA.

[this page was last updated by Robert Needlman, on 1-2-2019—it is a selection from the original pamphlet published by the USDA and CDC]