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10 Food Safety Mistakes

With foodborne illness afflicting 1 in 6 Americans every year, it’s good to know what you can say to help keep clients take charge of their own food safety.

The FoodSafety.gov website of the US government makes it easier. Let’s just find the common mistakes—and let clients know how to avoid them. Here’s their list of 10 food safety mistakes:

Food Safety Mistake #1: Tasting food to see if it’s still good.

This doesn’t work because foodborne pathogens are not detectable by the senses. And of course, someone who taste-tests contaminated food will get sick. Only following food-safe practices, like time and temperature control, will do the trick.

Food Safety Mistake #2: Putting cooked meat back on a plate that held raw meat.

Here’s the classic cross contamination pitfall. Another cross contamination risk is cracking an ordinary egg, which can contaminate work surfaces with Salmonella for an entire day. You have to know and manage the risks—because you can’t see contamination happening.

Food Safety Mistake #3: Thawing food on the counter.

The pathogens that cause foodborne illness multiply most rapidly at room temperature. Safe thawing happens in the refrigerator, or using another food-safe technique. See the USDA safe thawing fact sheet for more ideas.

Food Safety Mistake #4: Washing meat or poultry.

This just exacerbates the cross contamination problem. Some people think if you wash an egg you increase its safety. Not true. The Salmonella risk is inside the egg. Advice from FoodSafety.gov: “Don’t wash meat, poultry, or eggs.”

Food Safety Mistake #5: Letting food cool before putting it in the fridge.

This is a lot like #3. Time at room temperature allows foodborne pathogens to multiply. FoodSafety.gov advice is to refrigerate perishable foods within 2 hours (or within 1 hour if the temperature is over 90˚F).

Food Safety Mistake #6: Eating raw cookie dough (or other foods with raw eggs).

That’s because the raw eggs could contain Salmonella. Solutions are to fully cook eggs—but that’s not always clear-cut. Or: Avoid foods that contain raw or undercooked eggs. Or: Use pasteurized eggs, which are safe, even raw.

Food Safety Mistake #7: Marinating meat or seafood on the counter.

As with food safety mistake #3 and #5, it’s all about time in the danger zone. Thus, it’s best to marinate meat or seafood in the refrigerator.

Food Safety Mistake #8: Using raw meat marinade on cooked food.

Explains the FoodSafety.gov website, “Germs from the raw meat (or seafood) can spread to the cooked food.” Did we say cross contamination yet? The best idea is to discard marinade, or, advises the government, boil it before adding to cooked food.

Food Safety Mistake #9: Undercooking meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs.

Bringing potentially hazardous foods (PHF-TCS) to a safe endpoint temperature destroys harmful viruses and bacteria. The only way anyone can be sure is to use an accurate thermometer. (By the way, if you don’t like the idea of piercing egg yolks with a thermometer probe, try pasteurized eggs.)

Food Safety Mistake #10: Not washing your hands.

Hands are a prime vehicle of cross contamination. Effective handwashing goes a long way in protecting personal and public health. For handwashing education and inservice materials, visit the Safest Choice™ foodservice website.