How to Avoid Food Poisoning

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Harvard Medical School
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How to Avoid Food Poisoning

Food Safety
How to Avoid Food Poisoning
How to Avoid Food Poisoning
Tips on preventing tummy trouble.
InteliHealth Medical Content

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

How to Avoid Food Poisoning

The bacteria that cause poisoning are everywhere in the environment, but you can take steps to help avoid infection.

When shopping

  • Buy meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, eggs and freshly prepared foods from clean, reliable sources, and check the expiration date on packaged goods.
  • Buy clean, uncracked eggs that have been held under refrigeration.
  • Avoid foods with damaged packaging, such as dented or bulging cans. Don't buy any packaged food that is leaking or spilling its contents.
  • Put frozen foods into your cart last. Check packaging: Frozen food should feel solid, and the package should be clean. A discolored package may have been thawed and refrozen.

From market to home

  • Pack frozen and refrigerated items together in the same shopping bag to keep them cool on the way home.
  • Take all groceries home immediately, especially during warmer months.
  • Unpack and store groceries as soon as you get them home, especially refrigerated and frozen foods.
  • Store refrigerated and frozen food in original packaging, unless the wrapping is torn.
  • Be sure your refrigerator temperature is set between 34° and 40° and the freezer at 0° or less.

In your kitchen

  • Wash your hands before and after preparing food.
  • Keep all appliances, utensils, work surfaces, dish towels, cloths and sponges clean.
  • Avoid cross-contamination from raw food, such as meat or eggs, to cooked foods by using separate cutting boards, knives, bowls and other tools. If you don't have separate tools, be sure to wash thoroughly any items that touch raw animal products before using them with other foods.
  • Thaw meat, poultry and fish in the refrigerator, not at room temperature.
  • Marinate meat in the refrigerator, not at room temperature. If you use the marinade to baste the meat during cooking, boil the marinade first for a few minutes to kill any bacteria introduced by the raw meat.
  • Never put cooked meat back on a platter that held raw meat, unless the platter is thoroughly cleaned first.
  • Cook meat thoroughly. The internal temperature of veal, pork and lamb should be at least 160°. Beef should be cooked to about 170° and chicken until its internal temperature reaches 185°.
  • Avoid raw eggs and foods made with raw eggs, such as fresh mayonnaise and Caesar salad dressing. Don't lick the beaters or bowl of a cake or cookie batter that contains raw egg. (The kids will protest, but better safe than sorry.)
  • If you find a cracked egg in a carton, discard it.
  • Keep cold foods at temperatures below 40° and hot foods above 140°. Most bacteria thrive at temperatures between these two extremes.
  • Divide leftover food into small portions for quick cooling, and refrigerate or freeze as soon as possible after a meal.


Last updated September 09, 2013

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