Do You Know the Four Home Food Safety Basics and Beyond?

Keeping your meals and snacks safe to eat is easy when you know the Core Four Food Safety Steps.

four food safety icons

You will want to brush up on your food safety skills if you have young children or elderly relatives living with you, or if a family member has diabetes or other immune-compromising condition. These folks are at higher risk of getting sick from food-borne illness.

These four basic food safety tips should become as regular as brushing your teeth each day. They are important for protecting your families’ health.

  1. Clean - Wash hands and surfaces often.
  2. Separate - Don’t cross-contaminate.
  3. Cook - Cook to the right temperature.
  4. Chill - Refrigerate promptly.


CLEAN - Hands

This step includes washing your hands before and after food preparation. Also after using the bathroom, blowing your nose, petting animals or otherwise getting “bad bugs” on your hands.

CLEAN - Kitchen

It also means cleaning soiled cutting boards, utensils, and surfaces before and after food preparation.

SEPARATE - Foods in the Kitchen

Cross-contamination means moving bad bugs from one food or surface to another, such as cutting raw chicken on a cutting board, then using the same board to cut vegetables for salad. The potentially harmful bacteria from the chicken transfer to the salad vegetables. The chicken will get cooked, which will kill the bacteria, but the salad will be eaten raw and the live bacteria can potentially sicken those who eat it. It’s best to use a separate cutting board for raw and ready to eat foods.

SEPARATE - Foods in the Grocery Cart

Cross-contamination can happen even in the grocery store.  When purchasing packages of raw meat, poultry or seafood, place the package in one of the bags provided to keep any drips from contaminating other foods in the cart. Then, to keep the raw meat from contaminating other foods in the fridge, keep it in the bag when you put the raw food into the refrigerator, on a plate or  rimmed  pan on the lowest shelf.

COOK - To the Safe Internal Temperature

There is only one way to be sure food is cooked to a safe temperature: Use a food thermometer. They cost as little as five dollars for a pocket dial instant read thermometer at a discount department store. That tool, placed in the thickest part of the food you are testing, is one the key ways you ensure you are serving safe food.

Since we are talking temps, be sure hot food stays hot. Bacteria love to grow in lukewarm food. If you can’t keep it at 140°F or hotter (with a chafing dish or other method), throw it out after 2 hours at room temperature.

CHILL - Fridge and Freezer Need A Thermometer, Too!

There is another thermometer you will want to have in your food-safe kitchen: an appliance thermometer- one for the fridge and one for the freezer. Don’t skip this one!

CHILL - Fridge - 40, Freezer- 0

Making sure your fridge is at 40°F or colder not only keeps your food safe, but saves you money. A refrigerator at the correct temperature keeps milk, vegetables, and everything in your fridge from going bad too soon.

Keeping the freezer at 0°F does the same for frozen food.

Appliance thermometers are available for less than five dollars.

Complete USDA fact sheet with more tips, including safe internal cooking temperatures.



Mary Choate
Food Safety Field Specialist
Assoc Field Specialist
Phone: 603-787-6944
Office: Cooperative Extension, Taylor Hall, Durham, NH 03824