Foodborne Diseases

Family eating dinner

Food is an important part of the holiday season, but holiday meals can take a turn for the worse if food safety isn’t on your menu. To help keep you and your loved ones safe from foodborne diseases, follow the four basic steps of food safety—Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill—now and throughout the year.

Quiz

Key Facts

  • Foodborne disease (sometimes called foodborne illness or food poisoning) is common, costly, and preventable.
  • Germs that cause illness can survive on your hands, utensils, and food preparation surfaces, such as cutting boards and countertops.
  • Raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs can spread germs to ready-to-eat foods—unless you keep them separate.
  • Bacteria that cause food poisoning can multiply rapidly in the “Danger Zone” between 40°F and 140°F.
  • People can spread germs to food and others, especially if they do not wash their hands thoroughly or if they prepare food while sick.

Media

Man checking turkey in oven
Oven Roasts

Many people think they can tell when food is “done” simply by checking its color and texture, but there's no way to be sure it's safe without following a few important but simple steps. Use a food thermometer. During meal times, while food is being served and eaten, keep it hot. After meals are over, refrigerate leftover food within 2 hours. Check the safe minimum cooking temperatures for meat, poultry, seafood, and other cooked foods at https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/mintemp.html.

Chefs cooking and washing vegetables
Detect and Prevent Foodborne Illnesses

CDC provides the vital link between illness in people and the food safety systems of government (federal and state) agencies, food producers, and food retailers.

Unpasteurized Milk
Unpasteurized Milk

If you drink eggnog over the holidays, be sure it has been pasteurized to kill germs that are be found in raw milk or raw eggs and cause severe illness. If you make homemade eggnog, prepare it with eggs and milk that have been pasteurized.

Woman cookuing turkey
Turkey Tips

Thaw your turkey in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in a microwave oven. For optimal safety, cook the stuffing outside the turkey in a casserole dish. If you place stuffing inside the turkey, do so just before cooking. Set the oven temperature no lower than 325°F and be sure the turkey is completely thawed. Use a food thermometer to be sure that the turkey, and center of the stuffing, reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F.

Raw cookie dough
Never Eat Raw Cookie Dough

Bake or cook dough and batter before eating. Raw dough and batter are never safe to eat, even if they don’t contain raw eggs. Just tasting a small amount can make you sick with germs such as E. coli and Salmonella.

Wash Hands the Right Way
Wash Hands the Right Way

Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and running water. Washing your hands the right way can stop the spread of illness-causing bacteria.

Wash Surfaces and Utensils
Wash Surfaces and Utensils

Wash surfaces and utensils after each use to prevent the spread of bacteria throughout the kitchen.

Woman washing vegetables
Wash Fruits and Veggies

Did you know that—even if you plan to peel fruits and veggies—it's important to wash them first because bacteria can spread from the outside to the inside as you cut or peel them?

Cutting board
Use a Cutting Board

Use separate cutting boards and plates for produce and for meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. Placing ready-to-eat food on a surface that held raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs can spread bacteria and make you sick.

Separate foods
Separate Foods

Keep meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from all other foods at the grocery and in the fridge. Bacteria can spread inside your fridge if the juices of raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs drip onto ready-to-eat foods.

Food thermometer
Keep Food Hot After Cooking

Cooked food is safe only after it's been heated to a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria. Color and texture alone won't tell you whether your food is done. Instead, use a food thermometer to be sure. Check the safe minimum cooking temperatures for meat, poultry, seafood, and other cooked foods at https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/mintemp.html.

Food on gas stove
Keep Food Hot After Cooking

Keep food hot after cooking (at 140°F or above). The possibility of bacterial growth actually increases as food cools after cooking because the drop in temperature allows bacteria to thrive. But you can keep your food above the safe temperature of 140°F by using a heat source like a chafing dish, warming tray, or slow cooker.

Man using microwave
Microwave Food Properly

Follow recommended cooking and standing times from package directions or labels. When reheating, use a food thermometer to make sure food reaches 165°F to make sure harmful bacteria have been killed in your foods.

Woman putting food in refrigerator
Refrigerate

Refrigerate perishable foods within 2 hours. Cold temperatures slow the growth of illness-causing bacteria. So it's important to chill food promptly and properly.

Raw turkey on counter
Never Thaw Foods on the Counter

Many people are surprised at this tip. But since bacteria can multiply rapidly at room temperature, you should avoid thawing foods on the counter. Thaw your food safely in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave.

Trash can
Know When to Throw Food Out

You can't tell just by looking or smelling whether harmful bacteria has started growing in your leftovers or refrigerated foods. Be sure you throw food out before harmful bacteria grow by checking our Safe Storage Times chart at http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/storagetimes.html.

Prevention Tips

  • Follow the four basic steps of food safety: Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.
  • Wash your hands, utensils, and surfaces before, during, and after preparing food and before eating to help stop the spread of germs to your food and loved ones.
  • Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from ready-to-eat foods at the grocery store, in your refrigerator, and when preparing and serving food.
  • You can’t tell if food is “done” simply by looking at its color and texture. Use a food thermometer to make sure food is cooked to the safe minimum internal temperature.
  • Refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours, or 1 hour if the outside temperature is 90°F or warmer.
  • The temperature in your refrigerator should be set at or below 40°F and the freezer at or below 0°F.
  • Don’t prepare food for other people if you have diarrhea or have been vomiting.
  • Always be careful when preparing food for people who are more likely to get seriously ill from food poisoning— children younger than 5 years, pregnant women, adults aged 65 and older, and people with weakened immunity, such as those with HIV or receiving chemotherapy.

More Information

Page last reviewed: October 29, 2020