Home Food Safety


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Foodborne pathogens like bacteria, parasites, and viruses are invisible to the naked eye and can spread throughout your kitchen. Keep your family safe by keeping your hands clean. Your hands can spread germs that can make you sick. So, wash your hands before, during, and after you prepare food. This can help minimize the spread of germs called cross-contamination (see below for more information on cross-contamination). Handwashing reduces the spread of pathogens from the hands to foods. You should always wash your hands after any activity that contaminated the hands and other important times, see the list below.

Hands lathered in soap above a sink with water running

Key Times to Wash Your Hands

  • When switching from handling raw food to ready to eat foods
  • Handling clean utensils
  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before and after eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After smoking or using nicotine products
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
  • After handling pet food or treats
  • After touching garbage

Five Steps to Proper Handwashing

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water, turn off the tap and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Try humming “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice if you don’t have a timer.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or use a paper towel so you can throw the germs away!

Additional Resources

Thermometer Use

Cooking foods to the right temperature will kill bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Using a food thermometer to check internal temperature to keep your food and family safe. Color, texture, appearance, or juiciness of meats and eggs are unreliable ways to determine readiness. To effectively destroy harmful bacteria that can cause food-borne illness, foods must be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature. Internal temperatures need to be taken so that all parts of the food reach a safe temperature. Some foods may be cooked to higher temperatures for personal preferences, such as well-done steaks. Food thermometers are also important to help make sure cooked foods are kept at safe temperatures until they are served. Cold food should be at or below 40° Fahrenheit and hot foods should be kept at or above 140° Fahrenheit.

A digital food thermometer inserted into a steak registering 162.2 degrees Fahrenheit

Minimum Internal Temperature

  • Beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roast = 145° Fahrenheit
  • Fish steaks and fillets = 145° Fahrenheit
  • Ground meats = 160° Fahrenheit
  • Egg and egg dishes = 160° Fahrenheit
  • Chicken/Poultry = 165° Fahrenheit
  • Stuffing and casseroles = 165° Fahrenheit

Additional Resources


Cleaning gets rid of the dirt you can see and sanitizing kills most of the germs you can’t see. Sanitizers are chemicals that destroy germs on cleaned surfaces. Sanitizing is the final step in the cleaning process. You must first wash and rinse a surface or object before you can sanitize it. A sanitizer does not cut through dirt or grease. An effective and approved sanitizer is a mixture of chlorine bleach and water. Scented bleach is not an approved sanitizer because the fragrances are not proven food safe. Chemicals may cause foodborne illness if they get into food. All chemicals, soaps, cleaners, sanitizers, and pesticides must be stored away from food, utensils, and food preparation areas. If chemicals need to be stored in the kitchen area, make sure to store them below food or food-contact surfaces so it does not drip onto food. All chemical containers need to have easy-to-read labels and easy-to-follow directions.

**Remember, all chemicals (including chlorine bleach) are poisonous and need to be stored out of the reach of children and away from food. Take special caution to avoid accidents with chemicals, never put in an unlabeled bottle or leave the bottle where children might accidentally drink from it or spray it on other children. The National Poison Control Center 1(800) 222-1222 is available 24 hours a day**

A hand pouring bleach out of a white bleach bottle with a green sticker saying Washington Poison Center 1-800-222-1222

Chlorine bleach sanitizer solution

  • 1 teaspoon of bleach + 1 gallon of cool water
  • 1/4 teaspoon of bleach + 1 quart of cool water

Tips for using sanitizer

  • Mix bleach with cool to lukewarm water in a bucket, spray bottle or sink. Do not use hot water, this will make the bleach evaporate faster.
  • Do not add soap to the sanitizer, it will decrease the effectiveness and might create fumes that can harm you.
  • When using a wiping cloth, let cloth soak in sanitizer solution for at least 1 minute.
  • Use a different cloth for food and nonfood-contact areas
  • When dipping objects in sanitizing solution, let object soak in sanitizing solution for at least 1 minute.
  • Always let surfaces and objects air dry.

Raw Meat Handling

Cross contamination happens when germs from raw foods get onto other foods. Raw meats are the main source of cross contamination. When blood or juices from raw meats get onto a counter, cutting board, utensils, or hands, bacteria can spread to other foods. This is why washing meats is unnecessary. Washing raw meats, chicken, turkey, or eggs can spread germs to your sink, countertops, and other surfaces in your kitchen. Instead, cook foods thoroughly to kill harmful bacteria.

Raw Meat Storage Diagram. Ready-to-eat foods like milk, vegetables, bread. Cook fish, eggs, shellfish, and steak to 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook hamburger and sausage (ground meat) to 155 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook chicken and turkey to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Wash hands after handling raw meats
  • Wash and sanitize all food-contact surfaces that touch raw meats
  • Prepare raw meat in an area away from other foods
  • Use a separate cutting board for raw meats
  • Store raw meat below other foods in the fridge and freezer
  • Store meats with a higher cooking temperature (like chicken) below meats with a lower cooking temperature (like fish)

Additional Resources

Washing Produce

A healthy diet contains plenty of fruits and vegetable. Knowing how to select the best produce to keep you and your family safe is the first step. Some tips for at the store are pick items that aren’t bruised, or damaged, pre-cut fruits or vegetables should always be refrigerated or on ice, and make sure to separate fruits and vegetables away from raw meat, poultry and seafood in your shopping cart and grocery bags. However, because produce has many possibilities to become contaminated on the way to the store, washing and storing your produce properly will help stop the spread of foodborne illness. As well as, making sure they are stored at 40° F or below.

Above view of a persons hands washing vegetables in a sink.

Tips for preparing fruits and vegetables safely

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and dry thoroughly.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables as you plan use them, not necessarily before storing.
  • Wash all produce under running water before preparing and/or eating. It is important to wash the outside even if you do not plan to eat the rind because bacteria on the surfaces can get inside when cutting or peeling.
  • Use of soap or detergents can be absorbed by fruits and vegetables even when rinsed thoroughly and can make you sick.
  • Cut away any bruised or damaged areas.
  • Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel to further reduce bacteria spread from surfaces.

Additional Resources

Food Allergens

A food allergy happens when the body has an immune response to certain foods. The body’s immune response can vary from severe and life-threatening like anaphylaxis to hives, rash or digestive problems. Each person can have different symptoms or severity, and this can change over the course of someone’s lifetime. There is no cure for food allergies. The Food and Drug Administration enforces the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA) that requires food labels clearly identify the food source names of the top eight major allergens or contain protein from a major food allergen. Those top eight major allergens are milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans.

A table full of food that are common allergens.

Food Preservation

Preservation of foods to eat later has been around for thousands of years and with salting being one of the oldest recognized. Food preservation is any act or addition that prevents unwanted bacterial growth or chemical change. This could include things such as canning, drying, and freezing foods. Preserving food helps to reduce food waste, waste in landfills, and our environmental footprint.

Fruits and vegetables in canning jars on a wooden surface with a wooden background.

Making Baby Food

Before beginning to feed your baby solid foods be sure to talk with your health care provider about which foods are best for your baby and if there are any dietary restriction. When preparing any foods always washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds than completely dry with a paper towel or clean towel. Making your own baby food can be as easy as using a fork to mash up a ripe banana or avocado. Foods can also be steams and put in a food processor, food mill, or a baby food grinder. A benefit of making your own baby food is that you can help cut food cost, know exactly what is going into your baby’s food, and help baby get used to foods that the family eats.

A group of fruits and vegetables slices on a wooden surface with three bowls of pureed foods with a spoon sticking out.

Additional Home Food Safety Resources

This material was funded by USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – SNAP.
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