Basics for Handling Food Safely


Safe steps for food handling, cooking and storage are essential for avoiding food borne illnesses.  You can’t see, smell or taste bacteria which may be on any food.  Follow these safety guidelines to keep pathogens away.

Buy cold food fast; get it home fast

  • Never chose packages which are torn or leaking
  • Don’t buy foods past “sell-by” or expiration dates.
  • Put raw meat and poultry into a plastic bag so meat juices wont cross contaminate cooked foods or those eaten raw, such as vegetables or fruit.
  • Place refrigerated or frozen items in the shopping cart last, right before heading or the checkout counter.
  • When loading the car, keep perishable items inside the air-conditioned car – not in the trunk.
  • Drive immediately home from the grocery.   If you live further away than 30 minutes bring a cooler with ice from home; place perishables in it.

Safe Storage of Foods 
Woman holding stack of plastic food storage

  • Unload perishable foods from the car first and immediately refrigerate them.  Place securely wrapped packages of raw meat, poultry, or fish in the meat drawer or coldest section of your refrigerator.
  • Check the temperature of your unit with an appliance thermometer.  To slow bacterial growth, the refrigerator should be 40 degrees F; the freezer 0 degrees F.
  • Cook or freeze fresh poultry, fish, ground meats, and variety meats within 2 days; other beef, veal, lamb or pork, within 3 to 5 days.
  • Keep meat and poultry in its package until just before using.
  • If freezing meat and poultry in its original package longer than 2 months, over wrap these packages with airtight heavy-duty foil, plastic wrap, freezer paper or plastic freezer bags.
  • Meat and poultry defrosted in the refrigerator may be refrozen before or after cooking.  If thawed by other methods, cook before refreezing.

Keep Everything Clean

  • Wash hands before and after handling raw meat and poultry
  • Sanitize cutting boards often in a solution of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach in 1 quart of water.  Wash towels and cloths often in hot water.  Wash kitchen towels and cloths often in hot water in washing machine.
  • Don’t cross-contaminate.  Keep raw meat, poultry, fish and other juices away from other food.   After cutting raw meats, wash hands, cutting board, knife, and counter tops with hot soapy water.
  • Marinate meat and poultry in a covered dish in the refrigerator.

Thaw Food Safely

  • Refrigerator: Allows slow, safe thawing.  Make sure thawing juices do not drip on other foods.
  • Cold Water: For faster thawing, place food in a leak-proof plastic bag and submerge in cold tap water.
  • Microwave:  Cook meat and poultry immediately after microwave thawing.

Safe Cooking

Cook all meat and poultry to the proper internal temperatures:

Ground meats to 160 degrees F
Ground poultry to 165 degrees F
Beef to 145 degrees F
Veal and lamb shanks to 145 degrees F
Roasts to 145 degrees F
Chops to 145 degrees F
All cuts of fresh pork to 160 degrees F
Poultry thighs to 180 degrees F
Poultry breasts to 170 degrees F

Serving Foods Safely

Never leave it out over 2 hours (1 hour in temperatures above 90 degrees F):  Bacteria that cause food borne illness grow rapidly in room temperature.

Keep Hot Food hot! Cold Food Cold:

  • When serving food at a buffet, keep hot food over a heat source and keep cold food on ice.  Keep platters of food refrigerated until time to serve or heat them.
  • Carry perishable picnic foods in a cooler with a cold pack or ice. Set the cooler in the shade and open the lid as little as possible.

Handing Leftover Safely

  • Divide foods into shallow containers for rapid cooling.  Put food directly in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Cut turkey off the bone and refrigerate.  Slice breast meat, legs and wings may be left whole.
  • Use cooked leftover within 4 days.

Refreezing Foods

Meat and poultry defrosted in the refrigerator may be refrozen before OR after cooling.  If thawed by other methods, cook before refreezing.

Cold Storage Chart



  Refrigerator Freezer
Fresh, in shell 3 weeks do not freeze
Raw yolks, white 2 – 4 days 1 year
Hard cooked 1 week do not freeze well
Liquid egg substitute,
3 days do not freeze
Liquid egg substitute,
10 days 1 year


Frozen Prepared Dinners  (see also Serving Prepared Foods Safely)

  Refrigerator Freezer
All Frozen until ready to heat 3 – 4 months

Deli & Prepared Foods

  Refrigerator Freezer
Egg salad 3 – 5 days do not freeze well
Chicken, tuna, ham salads 3 – 5 days do not freeze well
Pasta salads 3 – 5 days do not freeze well
Pre-stuffed pork/lamp chops 1 day do not freeze well
Stuffed chicken breasts 1 day do not freeze well
Store-cooked convenience meats 3 – 4 days do not freeze well

Hot Dogs & Lunch Meat


  Refrigerator Freezer
Hot dogs, opened 1 week  1 – 2 months
Hot dogs, unopened 2 weeks 1 – 2 months
Lunch meat, opened 3 – 5 days 1 – 2 months
Lunch meat, unopened 2 weeks 1 – 2 months

Corned Beef & Ham

  Refrigerator Freezer
Corned beef, with juice 5 – 7 days drained, 1 month
Refrigerated canned ham
6 – 9 months do not freeze
                           opened 3 – 5 days 1 – 2 months
Ham, fully cooked, whole 7 days 1 – 2 months
Ham, fully cooked, half 3 – 5 days 1 – 2 months
Ham, fully cooked, slices 3 – 4 days 1 – 2 months


Raw Hamburger, Ground & Stew Meats – How long is hamburger meat good for??  And others, of course.

  Refrigerator Freezer
Hamburger & stew meats 1 – 2 days 3 – 4 months
Ground turkey 1 – 2 days 3 – 4 months
Ground veal 1 – 2 days 3 – 4 months
Ground pork 1 – 2 days 3 – 4 months
Ground lamb 1 – 2 days 3 – 4 months

Soups & Stews

  Refrigerator Freezer
Vegetable or meat added 3 – 4 days 2 -3 months

Bacon & Sausage

  Refrigerator Freezer
Bacon 7 days 1 month
Pork sausage 1 – 2 days 1 -2 months
Beef sausage 1 – 2 days 1 – 2 months
Chicken or turkey sausage 1 – 2 days 1 – 2 months
Smoked breakfast links 7 days 1 – 2 months
Smoked breakfast patties 7 days 1 – 2 months
Refrigerated summer sausage                 unopened 3 weeks 1 – 2 months
                                opened 3 weeks 1 – 2 months

Fresh Meat

  Refrigerator Freezer
Steaks 3 – 5 days 6 – 12 months
Chops 3 – 5 days 4 – 6 months
Roasts 3 – 5 days 4 – 12 months
Organ meats 1 – 2 days 3 – 4 months

Meat Leftovers

  Refrigerator Freezer
Cooked meat and meat dishes 3 – 4 days 2 – 3 months
Gravy and meat broth 1 – 2 days 2 – 3 months

Fresh Poultry

  Refrigerator Freezer
Chicken or turkey, whole 1 – 2 days 1 year
Chicken or turkey, parts 1 – 2 days 9 months
Giblets 1 – 2 days 3 – 4 months

Cooked Poultry

  Refrigerator Freezer
Fried chicken 3 – 4 days 4 months
Cooked poultry dishes 3 – 4 days 4 – 6 months
Pieces, plain 3 – 4 days 4 months
Pieces, with broth/gravy 1 – 2 days 6 months
Chicken nuggets, patties 1 – 2 days 1 -3 months


Because freezing (0 Degree F) keeps food safe indefinitely, recommended storage times are for quality only.

For more information go to Still Tasty? – Keep it or Toss It?  How long will your favorite food or beverage stay safe and tasty?  What’s the best way to store it?

More info:  Call USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline:


Washington DC (202) 720-3333

Fast Food:  1 (800) 238-8281

Get Natural Vitamins that deliver – go to Whole Food Supplements

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