Was It Something I Ate?  >  What Is Hot and What Is Not



How do you know when your food is safe to eat? This question will be answered after reading the section below. So let’s get started with learning about keeping your food safe.


Food Before It Is Cooked

Grocery Store

Shop for non-refrigerated items first.

Place cold foods together in the grocery cart.

When your food is being bagged at the grocery store, ask the bagger to pack all of your cold foods together.

Try to go straight home after visiting the grocery store and refrigerate or freeze the foods as soon as you get home.


You have less than two hours from the time you remove the food from the refrigerated case in the store to get home and get the food in your refrigerator or freezer.

If it is extremely hot outside (over 90 degrees F or 32 degrees C) then you have only one hour.

If you need more time, try packing a cooler in your car to keep the food cold.



Do not overstuff your refrigerator. Cold air needs to be able to move around your food to cool it properly.

Your refrigerator needs to be at 40 degrees F (4.4 degrees C). There are refrigerator thermometers that will help you keep your refrigerator at the proper temperature.

Check your refrigerator thermometer daily. If the temperature is too hot, check it again in 30 minutes. If it is still too hot, lower the inside thermostat if possible. Food that is stored in a refrigerator that is too warm for over 2 hours should be thrown away.


Thawing Food


The safest way to thaw foods is in the refrigerator. This allows for a slow and safe thawing.

It usually takes one day to defrost small amounts of food in the refrigerator.

Larger frozen items such as a frozen turkey will need more time to defrost completely in the refrigerator.



Cold Water

Is a fast way to thaw out frozen foods, but some precautions are needed.

Place the frozen food in a leak proof bag and submerge in cold tap water. Change the tap water every 30 minutes until the frozen food is thawed, or place the food in the sink and use cold, running water to thaw it. (Caution: this is really a waste of water - a valuable natural resource).


A microwave oven is another fast way to thaw out foods.

When the microwave is used to defrost, it will start cooking the frozen item. When using this method, the food needs to be cooked right after it is thawed to prevent bacterial growth on the food.

Now that we know how to keep food safe from bacteria before cooking, let’s learn about cooking the food. How do you know when your food is safe to eat?

Do you look to see if the center is red?

Do you pierce it with a fork to see if the juices run clear?

Do you check the color of the food?

There is only one way to determine if your food is cooked completely and safely.


Cooking Food Safely:

Use a meat thermometer that has been calibrated (checked to see if it reads temperatures accurately).

Calibrating the meat thermometer is one of the first things that should be done.


Place the stem of your thermometer into boiling water and the temperature should read 212 degrees F (100 degrees C).

Some more expensive thermometers may have their own method of calibrating so read the instructions first.

Insertion of the meat thermometer is also important. You want to be sure that you insert the thermometer properly so you can get a correct reading to determine if your food is done.



Poultry – Insert into the inner thigh area near the breast of the chicken or turkey but not touching the bone. For a boneless piece of poultry, insert the stem sideways into the thickest part, away from any fat or gristle.

Stuffing – If used, stuffing must reach 165 degrees F (74 degrees C). The temperature should be checked near the beginning and at the end of the serving time. It is recommended that the stuffing be cooked separately from the meat.

Beef, Pork, Lamb, Veal, Ham, Roasts, Steaks, or Chops – Insert the thermometer, sideways if necessary, into the thickest part of the piece of meat, away from bone, fat, or gristle.

Ground Meat and Poultry – Place the stem into the thickest part of ground meat or poultry dishes, such as meatloaf. The thermometer may be inserted sideways into thin items such as meat patties.

Casseroles and Egg Dishes – The thermometer should be inserted into the thickest portion.

Different types of foods require cooking to different internal cooking temperatures to be safe. Below is a guide with all the temperatures that your food should reach before it is considered safe to eat. You can print this chart and place it somewhere in your kitchen so you can look at it when you are cooking.

Some fish and seafood products are not included on this chart. Follow these guidelines to make sure they are cooked properly.


Fish cakes need to be cooked to 155 degrees F (68 degrees C).

Stuffed fish needs to be cooked to 165 degrees F (74 degrees C).

Shrimp and lobster turn red and the flesh becomes white or opaque (solid appearing).

Scallops turn milky white, opaque, and firm when cooked.

Clams, mussels, and oysters should be boiled for at least 3 minutes AFTER THEY OPEN during steaming. Discard any that do not open.


Microwaves cook food unevenly – hot in some places and cold in others – so be sure to check the temperature in the center of the food not just on the edges.

When using a microwave to cook food, there are some rules to follow. Your dish should be covered, stirred, and rotated so that the cooking is more even.

If your microwave does not have a turntable, you should open the door and turn the dish 180 degrees by hand at least twice during the cooking time.

It is also important to observe any recommended standing time for the food. A lot of times the food is still cooking and needs a little time to cool so it can be eaten.

Other Special Circumstances

Bring all sauces, gravies, and soups to a boil when reheating.

Leftovers should be thoroughly reheated to 165 degrees F (74 degrees C).

Never eat foods containing raw milk or raw eggs.



Keeping Your Food Safe After Cooking

Now that you have prepared a bacteria safe meal how do you keep the bacteria from coming back? You will find this information in other sections of the readings. Remember the danger zone is 40 – 140 degrees F (4.4 – 60 degrees C) so you do not want your food to be in that temperature range for more than 2 hours. If the air temperature is above 90 degrees F, do not keep foods in the danger zone for more than 1 hour.


Other Storage Tips

Label foods with the date they were opened. It is easy to forget when an item was actually opened or used last.

Place all leftovers in safe, preferably air tight storage containers. Label the container with the name of the food and the date it was prepared.

You have probably heard the statement “keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold”. This is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick from eating something that was not stored properly or soon enough.

Hot foods should be kept at 140 degrees F (60 degrees C) or above. Cold foods should be kept at 40 degrees F (4.4 degrees C) or below.

Hot foods that are going to be cooled need to reach 40 degrees F (60 degrees C) within 2 hours.

Divide meat or poultry into small portions to refrigerate or freeze.

Refrigerate or freeze gravy, potatoes, and other vegetables in shallow containers.

Remove stuffing from whole cooked poultry and refrigerate separately from the poultry.

Any perishable food, including cut produce, left at room temperature for more than two hours needs to be thrown into the garbage.

Raw meat and poultry products in the refrigerator or freezer need to be wrapped securely so the bacteria juices do not drip onto other foods. Those in the refrigerator should be put on the bottom shelf, on a plate, or in a container.




What Did You Learn?

What is the only way to make sure your food is free from the bacteria that cause foodborne illness? (Choose one answer)


The easiest way to remember the recommended cooking times for food is to: (Choose one answer)


You are finished grocery shopping, but have one more errand to run before you can return home. It is 98 degrees F (37 degrees C) today. How long do you have to refrigerate or freeze your cold foods to prevent excess growth of bacteria? (Choose one answer)




Please Select Another Topic to Continue

Let’s Start with the Basics

Better Safe than Sorry — What Not to Eat

Store It Right

The Right Tools for the Job

Clean It! Make It Safe!

A Little Elbow Grease



Last Update: 04.06.12

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