Resources For Consumers

This is a place where our researchers have put together a list of answers to some commonly asked food safety questions. If you have a question that is not answered on this page, please send an email to our lab. Our email can be found on the home page.

  • How long should you wash your hands for?
    • Your hands should be washed for 20 seconds with warm soapy water. If you do not have a timer on hand, sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice.
  • When should you wash your hands?
    • Your hands should be washed before and after handling food, after using the bathroom, after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, and after handling uncooked eggs, meat, poultry or fish.
  • How should surfaces in the kitchen be washed?
    • The surfaces in your kitchen should be washed with hot soapy water. Then they should be dried with paper towel.
  • How should surfaces in the kitchen be sanitized?
    • To sanitize kitchen surfaces use 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid, chlorine bleach in a gallon of water. Wipe down the surfaces with the sanitizing mixture and let it stand for several minutes before either rinsing the surface off or patting it dry.
  • Should I clean or sanitize first?
    • Cleaning with hot soapy water should be done first. Then you should sanitize with a mixture made up of 1 tablespoon of non-scented, liquid, chlorine bleach and a gallon of  water.
  • What is the difference between sanitizing and cleaning?
    • Sanitizing kills the bacteria while cleaning helps to physically remove dirt, grim, and some bacteria from surfaces. Cleaning does not kill bacteria.
  • How often should utensils, cutting boards, and counter tops be washed?
    • They should be washed after every use.
  • Should I wash my meat off before I cook it?
    • No, do not wash your meat. The only food item that should be washed are fruits and vegetables.

Here are some links to web pages on cleaning:

Meat Products

  • Beef, Pork, Veal, and Lamb
    • Minimum Internal Temperatures: 145 ˚F or 62.8 ˚C
  • Ground meats
    • Minimum Internal Temperatures: 160 ˚F or 71 ˚C
  • Ham (fresh, smoked, or uncooked)
    • Minimum Internal Temperatures: 145 ˚F or 62.8 ˚C
  • Fully Cooked Ham
    • Minimum Internal Temperatures: 140 ˚F or 60 ˚C

Food Products

  • All Poultry Products
    • Minimum Internal Temperatures: 165 ˚F or 73.9 ˚C
  • Eggs
    • Minimum Internal Temperatures: 160 ˚F or 71.1 ˚C
  • Fish and Shellfish
    • Minimum Internal Temperatures: 145 ˚F or 62.8 ˚C
  • Leftovers
    • Minimum Internal Temperatures: 165 ˚F or 73.9 ˚C
  • Casseroles
    • Minimum Internal Temperatures: 165 ˚F or 73.9 ˚C


  • Can I place cooked burgers on the same platter that held the raw burgers?
    • No you cannot. The juices from the raw burger could have harmful bacteria in it and contaminate the cooked food. It is suggested to use a clean platter to place the cooked food on. Clean utensils should be used to move the cooked burgers as well.
  • How do I tell that my meat is done cooking?
    • The best way to ensure that your meat is done cooking is by using a food thermometer. The color of the meat does not indicate that the meat has been cooked to the right
  • What is the best way to thaw food?
    • The best way to thaw food is in the refrigerator because the food will stay at a constant temperature while it thaws. If you want to thaw food in the fridge, place it in a container so that any juices from it will not make a mess and contaminated surfaces in the fridge.
  • Are there other ways to thaw food?
    • You can also thaw the food in cold water. Place the food in a leak-proof bag and submerge it in the cold water. Make sure to continually change the water during the thawing process. Another way to thaw food is by placing it in the microwave. If you are going to use either of these methods, you will have to cook the food right away.

Here are some links to websites on cooking:

  • I am going grocery shopping at a store at least a hour and a half away. Is there any thing I should do with my groceries when I take them home?
    • If you are going to be getting any meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or other types of produce, it is recommended that they should not be out in room temperature for more than 2 hours. If the temperature is above 90° F, the produce and everything listed above should not be out in room temperature for more than an hour. It is advised to take a cooler with you that is filled with ice packs to help preserve the food until you can get it home. Once you get home the food should not be out longer than 30 minutes and immediately placed in either the fridge or the freezer.
  • Is there a specific order I should be shopping in?
    • Yes, and the advised order to shop in is getting non-perishable items first, then refrigerated and frozen items, next are the meats and cheeses you can get at the deli counter, and lastly get the fresh produce.
  • How should I pick what produce to buy?
    • It is best to pick loose produce over packaged produce. This way you have the ability to choose what you get. When picking produce make sure to avoid items with molds or bruises on it. Also make sure to only buy what you will use within a week.
  • Is there anything I should be concerned with if I want to buy food in a can or packaged in a box?
    • The can should not have dents or have rust spots along the top or side seem of the can. If buying food in a jar make sure the jar lid is still sealed, otherwise the food in the jar might be contaminated. Packages should not have holes or tears in them. Lastly, frozen foods should feel solid and not like they have been thawed.
  • At what point in my shopping trip should I buy milk and eggs?
    • You should buy them towards the end of the shopping trip. This decreases the amount of time they are out of the fridge.
  • Is there any advise for buying seafood?
    • Make sure the flesh of the fish is shiny and firm when buying fresh seafood. The odor of fresh seafood should also be mild and not overly fishy smelling. If buying packaged seafood, it should be in ice with packaging free form dents and tears. Lastly, if you plan to buy fresh crab or shrimp, make sure it is in a separate case from the fish.
  • How should I choose which meat and poultry products to buy?
    • The meat you choose to buy should be cold to the touch and well sealed in the package. Choose meat and poultry that are pink in appearance. Lastly make sure there is 'Safe Food Handling' label on packages of bacon and sausage. This label means that the meat has undergone safe processing.

Here are some links to websites on safe grocery shopping:

  • How cold should my fridge be?
    • Your fridge should be kept at or below 40° F  or 4° C. You can check the internal temperature of your fridge with an appliance thermometer.
  • How cold should my freezer be?
    • Your freezer should be kept at or below 0° F or -18° C. You can check the internal temperature of the freezer with an appliance thermometer.
  • Is there a reason that there are drawers in my fridge labeled fruit, cheese, and vegetable?
    • This is actually the recommended storage areas for each of these food categories. Vegetables require higher humidity levels than fruits, and the drawers provide the perfect place to help control the humidity. The meat and cheese drawer is designed to help prolong the storage time you can keep meats and cheese in the fridge.
  • What should be stored on the shelves of my fridge?
    •  The top shelf of the fridge should contain the ready-to-eat foods or food that can be served without being cooked first. This is the coldest shelf in the fridge. The second shelf should breads and foods that might be considered hot held or might not be in other categories. Any food on this shelf should have a cooking temperature of  135 The third shelf should contain the fresh cuts of meat, seafood, and eggs that will be served immediately. The fourth shelf in the fridge should have ground meat, tenderized meat, or injected meats. This shelf can also hold hot held eggs. The bottom shelf is meant to hold poultry, leftovers, and casseroles.
  • Should I throw my food away if it is freezer burned?
    • No, you do not necessarily have to throw the food away. Freezer burned food is a food-quality issue rather than a food safety problem. Make sure to always check the use by dates and the chart below to make sure the food is still safe to eat.

Here are some links to websites on cold storage safety:

  • What foods do not need to be stored in the fridge?
    • The types of foods that do not need to be stored in the fridge are called shelf stable foods. Examples of shelf stable foods are jerky, most canned goods, rice, pasta, oils, and spices.
  • What temperature should my pantry be kept at?
    • It is suggested that a pantry should be kept between 50°F and 70°F. It is always better to keep your pantry on the cooler side though.
  • How do I know if I should throw out a can or box of food?
    • If the can is dented on either the sides or the seam, it should be thrown out. Cans should also not have any signs of bulging, rust, leaks, mold, missing labels or water marks. Boxes should be thrown out if the box is torn or leaking its contents. The box should also be thrown out if the box is already open before you open it, the content are inside of the box before you open the box, there are signs of insects or rodents, the box appears moldy or has water marks, and lastly if the box is missing labels.

Here are some links to websites on dry storage safety:

  • Do I need to wash my meat before I cook it?
    • No you do not need to wash your meat before you cook it.
  • Do I need to wash my fruits and vegetables before I eat them?
    • Yes, you can wash your fruits and vegetables before you eat them. It is advised to first cut away damaged or bruised areas of the produce. Then rinse the produce under running water without using soap or bleach. If you have melons you can scrub them with a produce brush. After rinsing the produce off, you can dry it with a paper towel or clean cloth.
  • Is it okay that I place raw meat by my other foods in my shopping cart?
    • It is suggested that you do not do that. The best way to put food in the shopping cart is by putting all the raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs together away from other foods. It is also a good idea to put the raw meat, seafood, and poultry in a plastic separate bags.
  • Are there any special things I should do when handling leftovers?
    • If the food has been left out for over 2 hours, it should be thrown away. Otherwise the left over food should be placed in shallow containers and then put in the fridge right away. Use the leftovers within 3 to 4 days and reheat them to 165 °F.
  • If I want to serve food buffet style, is there anything special that I need to know?
    • Remember that food served hot needs to stay at 140 °F or warmer while foods served cold need to stay at 40 °F or colder. Use crock pots or slow cookers to help keep hot food hot, and used bowls or other containers with ice to help keep cold food cold. Always use a food thermometer to check the temperatures of the food you are serving. Lastly, remember that perishable food should not be out for more than 2 hours at room temperature.
  • Is there anything I should do to my fridge or freezer if I loose power?
    • Before you loose power, place an appliance thermometer in the fridge and freezer. This allows the user to see the temperature of the appliance, and helps them to determine if food in the appliance is safe to eat. In order for food to remain safe to eat, the temperature of the appliance should be at 40 °F or colder. Try to limit  opening the door of the appliance as this allows it to warm up faster. To help keep food cold, group the food together in the freezer. This can help keep the food colder for a longer period of time. If you are anticipating loosing power get empty milk jugs or containers and fill them with water to freeze. These make great ice packs. You could also buy or make ice before hand to fill coolers or the appliance. Lastly, if you are going to be out of power for more that 4 hours, grab some coolers to put food in.

Here are some links to websites on dry storage safety: