Environmental Health

Food Safety At Home

The environmental health staff conducts inspections on food facilities which are licensed by the health department. Along with inspections, education and training are provided to food service employees as well as to the general public.

Safe Food Handling:

When you shop - Buy cold food last, get it home fast!

Check the temperature of your refrigerator with an appliance thermometer.  To keep bacteria in check, the refrigerator should run at 41° F; the freezer unit at 0° F.  Keep your refrigerator as cold as possible without freezing milk or lettuce.

  • Freeze fresh meat, poultry or fish immediately if you can't use it within a few days.
  • Put packages of raw meat, poultry or fish on a plate before refrigerating so their juices won't drip on other food.  Raw juices often contain bacteria.

When you prepare food - Keep everything clean, thaw in refrigerator!

  • Wash hands in hot soapy water before preparing food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers and handling pets.
  • Harmful bacteria multiply quickly in kitchen towels, sponges and cloths.  Wash cloth items often in hot-cycle in your machine.  Consider using paper towels to clean up meat and poultry juices.  Avoid sponges or place them in the dishwater daily to kill bacteria.
  • Keep raw meat, poultry and fish and their juices away from other food.  For instance, wash your hands, cutting board, knife and counter tops in hot soapy water after cutting up the chicken and before slicing salad ingredients.  Also....wash sink and kitchen faucet handles the raw meat or your "meat-covered" hands have touched with hot soapy water.
  • Use plastic or other non-porous cutting boards rather than wooden ones.  These boards should be run through the dishwasher after use.

What about antibacterial sanitizers in the kitchen?

Food handling experts feel hot soapy water used properly should protect you adequately against foodborne bacteria.  However, kitchen sanitizers (including a mixture of bleach and water) can provide some added protection.  NOTE:  Sanitizer product directions must be followed carefully as products differ greatly.

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When you're cooking - Cook thoroughly!

It takes thorough cooking to kill harmful bacteria, so you're taking chances when you eat meat, poultry, fish or eggs that are raw or only partly cooked.  Plus, hamburger that is red in the middle and rare steak and roast beef are also undercooked from the safety standpoint.

  • Generally cook red meat to 155° F.  Cook poultry to 165° F.  Use a meat thermometer to check that it's cooked all the way through.
  • To check visually, red meat is done when it's brown or grey inside.  Poultry juices run clear.  Fish flakes with a fork.
  • Ground meat, where bacteria can spread throughout the meat during processing, should be cooked to at least 155° F.  This means there is no pink left in the middle or in juices.  You can allow large cuts like roasts to stay slightly pink in the center as long as they've reached at least 145° F (medium-rare).  Do not serve any cut at this low temperature if you have scored (cut or poked with a fork) or tenderized it before cooking, thus forcing surface bacteria into the center.
  • Salmonella, a bacteria that causes food poisoning, can grow inside fresh, unbroken eggs.  So cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm, not runny.  Scramble eggs to a firm texture.  Don't use recipes in which eggs remain raw or only partially cooked.

Safe microwaving.

A great timesaver, the microwave has one food safety disadvantage.  It sometimes leaves cold spots in food.  Bacteria can survive in these spots.  So...

  • Cover food with a lid or plastic wrap so steam can aid thorough cooking.  Vent wrap and make sure it doesn't touch the food.
  • Stir and rotate your food for even cooking.  No turntable?  Rotate the dish by hand once or twice during cooking.
  • Observe the standing time called for in a recipe or package directions.  During the standing time, food finishes cooking.
  • Use the oven temperature probe or a meat thermometer to check that food is done.  Insert it at several spots.

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When you serve food - Never leave it out over 2 hours!

  • Use clean dishes and utensils to serve food, not those used in preparation.  Serve grilled food on a clean plate too, not one that held raw meat, poultry or fish.
  • Never leave perishable food out of the refrigerator over 2 hours!  Bacteria that can cause food poisoning grow quickly at warm temperatures.
  • Pack lunches insulated carriers with a cold pack.  Caution children never to leave lunches in direct sun or on a warm radiator.
  • Carry picnic food in a cooler with a cold pack.  When possible, put the cooler in the shade.  Keep the lid on as much as you can.
  • Party time?  Keep cold party food on ice or serve it throughout the gathering from platters from the refrigerator.  Likewise, divide hot party food into smaller serving platters.  Keep platters refrigerated until time to warm them up for serving.

When you handle leftovers - Use small containers for quick cooling!

  • Divide large amounts of leftovers into small, shallow containers for quick cooling in the refrigerator.  Don't pack the refrigerator - - cool air must circulate to keep food safe.
  • With poultry or other stuffed meats, remove stuffing and refrigerate it in separate containers.


  • Bring sauces, soups and gravy to a boil.  Heat other leftovers thoroughly to 165° F.
  • Microwave leftovers using a lid or vented plastic wrap for thorough heating.

Kept it too long?  When in doubt, throw it out!

  • Danger - never taste food that looks or smells strange to see if you can still use it.  Just discard it.
  • Is it moldy?  The mold you see is only the tip of the iceberg.  The poisons molds can form are found under the surface of the food.  So, while you can sometimes save hard cheese and salamis and firm fruits and vegetables by cutting the mold out - - remove a large area around it, most moldy food should be discarded.

Wash your hands! ! !

  • Use warm running water.
  • Use soap - liquid if possible.
  • Rub hands together (20 seconds front and back between fingers - create a lather)
  • Scrub under your nails - well-trimmed.
  • Rinse and dry.

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Handwashing prevents you and others from becoming ill.
Before After
Eating Using the restroom
Handling clean equipment Sneezing and coughing
Preparing any food and preparing different foods Touching hair, skin, nose, and sores
Anytime your hands are soiled Playing sports and games
Handling money
Handling soiled dishware
Eating, drinking, and smoking

* The safe food handling information above is from USDA Home and Garden Bulletin No. 248, Western Illinois University Department of Agriculture.

Food Safety Links:
Federal Food Safety ExternalLink.gif Food and Drug Administration ExternalLink.gif
Illinois Department of Public Health ExternalLink.gif Partnership for Food Safety Education ExternalLink.gif
Scrub Club FightBac! Kids Food Safety - Games
U. S. Department of Agriculture ExternalLink.gif FightBac!

Other Resources:

U. S. Department of Agriculture
  • Meat & Poultry Hotline  1-800-535-4555
  • Food & Drug Administration Hotline  1-888-723-3366