By handling food properly, you can significantly reduce your risk for foodborne illness and protect your food purchase investment. Here are 25 tips for safe food handling, storage and preparation.

Home-cooked meals are the heart of a healthy diet. 


However, knowing the proper storage procedures and cooking temperatures, and using the right kitchen tools are essential for healthy meals and clean kitchens.


By handling food properly, you can significantly reduce your risk for foodborne illness and protect your food purchase investment. Here are 25 tips for safe food handling, storage and preparation.


The basics


First, let's review the basic rules of good kitchen practices: 


1. Wash your hands often with soap (more on that below).


2. Keep raw meat and ready-to-eat foods separate to prevent cross contamination.


3. Cook foods to proper temperatures (more on that below).


4. Refrigerate perishable foods (dairy products, meat and fish) promptly.


Hand washing 101


Proper hand washing may eliminate almost half of all cases of foodborne illness and also reduce the spread of the flu and common cold:


5. Wash your hands in warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds or about the time it takes to sing two choruses of "Happy Birthday."


6. Dry your hands with a disposable paper towel or clean towel.


7. Wash your hands before, during and after handling food, after switching food prep tasks, after taking out the garbage, talking on the phone, sneezing or petting an animal.


In the fridge


Proper food storage helps maintain quality, taste and prevent foodborne illness. When you store foods for shorter rather than longer periods of time at proper temperatures, you better preserve the quality, taste and safety of food:


8. Set your refrigerator temperature at 40 degrees and your freezer at below 0 degrees.


9. Use a refrigerator thermometer to ensure food is stored at proper temperatures.


10. Use packaged items by the "sell-by" or "use by" date. Follow the old saying, "When in doubt, throw it out."


11. Separate meat, poultry, seafood and eggs from other foods to prevent contamination.


12. Store leftovers in airtight, shallow containers, 2 inches deep or less.


13. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within two hours of cooking.


Clean cuts


Cutting boards are another possible problem area for food safety.  Remember these guidelines:


14. To prevent cross contamination, use two cutting boards, one for raw meat, poultry and seafood and another for ready-to-eat foods. Color-coded cutting boards are helpful.


15. Wash cutting boards thoroughly in hot, soapy water after each use.


16. Discard any cutting boards with cracks, crevices or knife scars where bacteria can thrive.


Fruits and vegetables


Fruits and vegetables are essential for a healthy diet, but produce can be potentially hazardous when it comes to contamination:


17. Use clean scissors or knife blades to open bags of produce.


18. Fruit peels may carry bacteria that can spread during eating, cutting or peeling. Wash all fresh fruits and vegetables with cool tap water (no soap) immediately before eating. This applies to ready-to-eat fruits and also to peel-and-eat fruits, such as oranges, bananas and lemons.


19. Scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush.


20. Remove and discard the outer leaves of lettuce and other salad greens.


21. After cleaning, place washed produce into clean storage containers, not back in the original ones.


Meat safety


Meat is a high-risk food group for food safety when it comes to storage and preparation. Take an active role in safeguarding the meat you eat:


22. Store meat in the coldest part of the refrigerator or in the meat bin.


23. Use fresh, raw meat stored in the refrigerator within three to four days of purchase.


24. Use a meat thermometer to cook to proper temperatures.


Use the following quick internal temperature guide:


Beef, veal, lamb: 145 degrees (medium rare); 170 degrees (well-done)


Fish: 145 degrees, or until opaque and easily flakes with fork


Ground meat, including turkey: 160 degrees


Pork: 160 degrees


Poultry: 165 degrees


25. Eat or freeze cooked meat within three to four days.


More consumer food safety information is available from www.foodsafety.gov.


Sara Lopinski, MS, RD, LDN, is a registered dietitian in the endocrinology division of the Department of Internal Medicine at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.


-- BeHealthySpringfield (Ill.)