Safe Eating at Home

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How you handle food matters. With enough warmth, moisture, and nutrients, one bacterium that divides every half hour can produce 17 million progeny in 12 hours.

Putting food in the refrigerator or freezer stops most bacteria from growing. Exceptions: Listeria (typically found in lunch meats, hot dogs, and unpasteurized soft cheese) and Yersinia enterocolitica (typically found in undercooked pork and unpasteurized milk) grow at refrigerator temperatures.

Rules for Leftovers

2 Hours — 2 Inches — 4 Days


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2 Hours from oven to refrigerator.

Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within 2 hours of cooking. Otherwise throw them away.



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2 Inches thick to cool it quick.

Store food at a shallow depth—about 2 inches—to speed chilling.





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4 Days in the refrigerator—otherwise freeze it.

Use leftovers from the refrigerator within 4 days. Exception: use stuffing and gravy within 2 days. Reheat solid leftovers to 165°F and liquid leftovers to a rolling boil. Toss what you don’t finish.

  • Buy fresh-cut produce like half a watermelon or bagged salad greens only if it’s refrigerated or surrounded by ice.
  • Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other foods in your shopping cart and in your refrigerator.
  • Store perishable fresh fruits and vegetables (like strawberries, lettuce, herbs, and mushrooms) or cut or peeled produce in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40° F or below.
  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing any food.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables under running water just before eating, cutting, or cooking, even if you plan to peel them. Don’t use soap (it leaves a residue). Produce washes are okay, but not necessary.
  • Scrub firm produce like melons and cucumbers with a clean produce brush. Let them air dry before cutting.
  • Discard the outer leaves of heads of leafy vegetables like cabbage and lettuce.
  • Don’t eat sprouts unless they’re thoroughly cooked. Children, the elderly, pregnant women, and anyone with a weakened immune system should avoid raw sprouts.
  • Cooking any food to 160°F will kill any E. coli O157:H7.
  • Drink only pasteurized milk, juice, or cider.
  • For more information on handling produce safely: http://www.cfsan.fda. gov/~dms/prodsafe.html.
  • For information on E. coli O157:H7: escherichiacoli_g.htm.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Center for Science in the Public Interest.


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