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Food Safety - Women’s Health Guide


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that every year about 48 million people in the United States become ill from harmful germs in food; of these, about 3,000 die.

What are the signs of illness from food?

  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Dehydration
  • Death

How is food handled safely?

  • Start with food shopping strategies.
  • Understand the role of keeping hands, surfaces, and foods clean.
  • Learn proper food storage.
  • Know proper food thawing.
  • Utilize specific preparation techniques.
  • Learn how to use a thermometer.
  • Recognize serving principles.
  • Be prudent when eating out.

You can't see, smell, or taste harmful bacteria that may cause illness.

When shopping for food

  • Visit the refrigerated or frozen section last.
  • Do not buy food if the package is torn, damaged or leaking.
  • Do not buy foods after the "Sell-By" or "Use-By" expiration dates.

Clean hands, surfaces, and foods

  • Wash hands thoroughly with water and soap.
  • Wash hands before and after handling food, and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, or handling pets.
  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, counters, utensils, and hands with hot soapy water after contact with raw meat, poultry, seafood, or unwashed fruits or vegetables.
  • Peel or wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating.

For more on how to clean hands, see Clean Hands.

When storing foods you should

  • Always refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours (1 hour when the temperature is above 90°F).
  • Cook or freeze fresh poultry, fish, ground meats, and other meats within 2 days.
  • Cook beef, veal, lamb, or pork, within 3 to 5 days.
  • Wrap meat and poultry.
  • Wrap meat in the original package with foil or plastic wrap before freezing.
  • Store low-acid canned food such as meat, poultry, fish, and most vegetables up to 2 to 5 years.
  • Store high-acid canned food such as tomatoes, grapefruit, and pineapples on the shelf for 12 to 18 months.
  • Only store cans in good condition, and in a cool, clean, dry place.
  • Discard cans that are dented, leaking, bulging, or rusted.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Safety Inspection Service has recommendations and information on refrigerator and freezer food storage. Visit: Basics for Handling Food Safely.

When thawing food

  • Thaw in the refrigerator.
    • Make sure thawing meat and poultry are covered. Keep juices from dripping into or touching other food.
    • Refreeze refrigerator-thawed meat and poultry before or after cooking.
  • Use cold water for quick thawing if needed.
    • Place food in a leak-proof plastic bag.
    • Submerge in cold tap water.
    • Change the water every 30 minutes.
    • Cook immediately after thawing.
  • Use a microwave to thaw as needed.
    • Cook food immediately after microwave thawing.

The Danger Zone is the temperature that germs can grow in food. Keep food below 40°F or above 140°F (4°C and 60°C).

Check the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer with an appliance thermometer. The refrigerator should be at 40°F or below and the freezer at 0°F or below.

See's Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures.

When preparing food

  • Clean your hands before and after.
  • Keep cutting boards, utensils, and countertops clean. Use hot, soapy water and mix with liquid chlorine bleach (1 tablespoon per 1 gallon of water).
  • Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from ready-to-eat foods.
  • Use at least two cutting boards.
    • One for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
    • One for fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Dont let "juice" from foods and packaging touch other foods, utensils, or surfaces.
  • Use a clean plate or bowl for cooked food.
  • Never use the same plate or bowl that held the uncooked or raw food. Germs from the raw food could get into the cooked food.
  • Marinate meat and poultry in a covered dish in the refrigerator.

For more on how to clean hands, see Clean Hands.

When using a thermometer

  • Use a food thermometer to check that meat, poultry, and egg dishes reach a safe temperature. Refer to's Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures or visit: Is It Done Yet.
  • Follow the instructions for your food thermometer.
  • Place thermometer in the thickest part of the food, not touching bone, fat, or gristle.
  • Check at the end of the cooking time, but before the food is expected to be "done".
  • Check the temperature in several places to make sure the food is evenly heated.
  • Clean your food thermometer with hot, soapy water before and after each use.
  • Large-dial oven-safe or oven-probe thermometers may be used during cooking.
  • After cooking, allow food to "rest" before cutting or eating. "Rest" times are in's Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures.
  • During the rest time, the temperature of the food will stay the same or rise. This will help destroy harmful germs.

When serving foods

  • Keep hot food at 140°F or warmer.
  • Keep cold food at 40°F or colder.
  • Keep food hot with chafing dishes, slow cookers, and warming trays during parties.
  • Keep food cold by nesting dishes in bowls of ice or use small serving trays. Replace them often.
  • Don't leave perishable foods out for more than 2 hours at room temperature (1 hour when the temperature is above 90°F).

2 Hour Rule: Keep hot food hot and cold food cold. If food that has been left out is not eaten within 2 hours, discard it.

When eating out

  • Choose a clean restaurant. Look for health department reports online or posted in the restaurant.
  • Look around you before you sit down. If it's not clean think about eating somewhere else.
  • Clean your hands with soap and warm water before eating. If soap and water aren't available, use alcohol hand rub to clean your hands.
  • Pay close attention to the type of food and how it's prepared – harmful germs can be hidden in some foods.
  • Request that your food be cooked completely through – especially meat, poultry, fish, and eggs.
  • Make sure your hot food is piping hot and completely cooked. If lukewarm, send it back.
  • Know that raw or undercooked finfish or shellfish (including oysters, clams, and mussels) are more likely to contain parasites or bacteria than foods made from cooked fish.
  • Refrigerate take-out and "leftover" food within 2 hours after being served. If you will not be home within 2 hours, don't take the leftovers home with you.
  • Bring take-out and "leftover" food directly home after eating out and put your leftovers in the refrigerator as soon as you arrive.
  • Eat delivery food within 2 hours after it arrives. This prevents the growth of harmful germs.

If the food is not going to be eaten within 2 hours, you can keep it hot in the oven – but the temperature must be set at or above 200°F (93°C). Side dishes, like stuffing, must also be kept hot in the oven. Covering food will help keep it moist while you keep it warm. Check with a food thermometer to make sure that the inside of the food is held at a temperature 140°F (60°C).

Leftover food should be used within 4 days. Reheat leftovers to 165°F.

For more on food safety

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