Safe handling basics


From the grocery store to your table, here are some simple precautions to keep food safe.

Safe storage after shopping

Refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours (1 hour in hot weather).

Store raw meat, poultry and fish away from other foods. Securely wrap and place it in the meat drawer or coldest section of your refrigerator.

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.

Generally, high-acid canned food such as tomatoes, grapefruit, and pineapple can be stored on the shelf for 12 to 18 months. Low-acid canned food such as meat, poultry, fish, and most vegetables will keep 2 to 5 years. Keep cans cool, clean, and dry and discard any that are dented, leaking, bulging or rusted.

washing hands

Safe preparation

Wash your hands

Remember always to use warm water and soap before and after handling food — and wash for at least 10 to 15 seconds.

Prevent cross-contamination

After cutting raw meats, poultry or fish, wash the cutting board, utensils and countertops with hot, soapy water.

Thaw properly

  • Refrigerator: The refrigerator allows slow, safe thawing. Make sure thawing meat and poultry juices do not drip onto other food.
  • Cold water: For faster thawing, place food in a leak-proof plastic bag. Submerge in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes. Cook immediately after thawing.
  • Microwave: Cook meat and poultry immediately after microwave thawing.

Safe cooking

Insert a thermometer into the thickest part:

  • 145 F: Beef, veal, and lamb steaks, roasts, and chops
  • 160 F: All cuts of pork
  • 160 F: Ground beef, veal and lamb
  • 165 F: All poultry
  • Cook eggs until firm, fish until it flakes easily with a fork, and shellfish until it is opaque.

Safe cooling

The biggest cause of foodborne illness is not cooling foods quickly enough.

To cool large pots of food, close the drain in your sink, put the pot of food in the sink, fill the sink with ice up to the level of the food in the pot, and add cold water to the ice. Stir the food often. When cool, refrigerate.

For large pieces of meat or poultry, cut into pieces 4 inches thick or less. Separate on a tray and refrigerate.

Safe serving

Never leave food out for more than 2 hours (1 hour in hot weather).

When serving buffet food, 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.

Cold storage chart

Product Refrigerator
(40°F or below)
(0°F or below)
Source: Kitchen Companion. Your safe food handbook (PDF), USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.
EGGS — See Safe handling of dairy, cheese and eggs
Egg, chicken, ham, tuna & macaroni salads 3 to 5 days Does not freeze well
opened package 1 week 1 to 2 months
unopened package 2 weeks 1 to 2 months
open packaged or deli sliced 3 to 5 days 1 to 2 months
unopened package 2 weeks 1 to 2 months
Bacon 7 days 1 month
Sausage, raw — from chicken, turkey, pork, beef 1 to 2 days 1 to 2 months
Hamburger, ground beef, turkey, veal, pork, lamb & mixtures of them 1 to 2 days 3 to 4 months
Steaks 3 to 5 days 6 to 12 months
Chops 3 to 5 days 4 to 6 months
Roasts 3 to 5 days 4 to 12 months
Chicken or turkey, whole 1 to 2 days 1 year
Chicken or turkey, pieces 1 to 2 days 9 months
Vegetable or meat added 3 to 4 days 2 to 3 months
Cooked meat or poultry 3 to 4 days 2 to 6 months
Chicken nuggets or patties 3 to 4 days 1 to 3 months
pizza 3 to 4 days 1 to 2 months

More about: cooking temperatures, food storage, foodborne illness, thawing