When you cook at home it’s important to keep food safety in mind. The basic idea is to keep foods at the right temperature (for example, keep perishables properly chilled in your refrigerator) and avoid cross-contamination. Here are a few simple rules to follow.
Keep foods cool when you’re shopping. If possible, go grocery shopping as your last errand before heading home. If you must run other errands, put a cooler in the car and buy a bag of ice to keep the perishables cold.
Watch out for dripping meats or fish. Put meats or fish in plastic bags before you stick them in your cart so they don’t drip on the produce or pantry items.
Refrigerator. Never store eggs, milk or meat on your refrigerator door, which is the part of the fridge with the greatest temperature fluctuations. We recommend setting your refrigerator temperature control for 40°F, and using the door for storing ketchup, mustard and other condiments that are not so easily subject to spoilage.
Freezer. Keep your freezer at 2°F for safe frozen-food storage.
Defrost food safely. Defrost food in the refrigerator or the microwave to deter bacterial growth. Leaving it out at room temperature to defrost does the opposite.
Wash your hands. Before you begin cooking, wash your hands with soap under warm water for at least 20 seconds (about as long as it takes to sing the chorus of “Jingle Bells”).
Wash fruits and vegetables. Rinse off fruits and vegetables under cool running water.
Don’t wash meats. Unwrap meats and fish in the sink and leave them in their container or paper until you’re ready to use them. Immediately throw out the container or paper; never reuse it. Despite what your mother may have taught you, it’s not wise to rinse off poultry, meat or fish. The bacterial contaminants can only be killed at temperatures above 160°F, far hotter than the hot water in our homes. Rinsing also allows for random splashes–and thus cross-contamination of counters and cabinets.
Keep cutting boards safe. Avoid cross-contamination by having at least two cutting boards, one for meat or fish and another for fresh produce.
Follow the 2:2:4 rule. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within two hours of cooking the food. Otherwise throw it away–it may not be safe to eat. Store leftovers in the refrigerator in shallow containers (about two inches deep) and use them (or freeze them) within four days.
Wash plastic cutting boards in the dishwasher. Wash your knives in hot, soapy water. And wash your counters with hot, soapy water. An occasional thorough once-over with a kitchen disinfectant spray is a good idea.