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Food Safety: Preparing

Food Safety: Preparing


Wash your hands often and prepare foods properly to reduce the risk of food poisoning.

How to wash your hands

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following steps for hand-washing:footnote 1

  • Wash your hands with running water, and apply soap.
  • Rub your hands together to make a lather. Scrub well for at least 20 seconds.
  • Pay special attention to your wrists, the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your fingernails.
  • Rinse your hands well under running water.
  • Use a clean towel to dry your hands, or air-dry your hands. You may want to use a clean towel as a barrier between the faucet and your clean hands when you turn off the water.

If soap and water are not available, use gel hand sanitizers or alcohol-based hand wipes containing 60% to 90% ethyl alcohol or isopropanol. Most supermarkets and drugstores carry these products. Carry one or both with you when you travel, and keep them in your car or purse.

When you use the gel sanitizer, rub your hands until the gel is dry. You don't need to use water. The alcohol in the gel kills the germs on your hands.

When to wash your hands

Wash your hands after:

  • Touching bare human body parts other than clean hands and clean, exposed parts of your arms.
  • Using the bathroom.
  • Coughing, sneezing, or using a handkerchief or disposable tissue.
  • Eating, drinking, or using tobacco (for example, smoking).
  • Handling soiled kitchen utensils or equipment.
  • Handling other soiled or contaminated utensils or equipment.
  • Handling or preparing foods, especially after touching raw meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, or eggs.
  • Changing diapers, handling garbage, using the phone, shaking hands, or playing with pets.

Prepare foods properly

  • Keep raw meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and shellfish away from other foods, surfaces, utensils, and serving plates.
  • Do not wash or rinse raw meat and poultry. Washing or rinsing meat and poultry makes it more likely that bacteria will spread from the meat or poultry to kitchen utensils, countertops, and ready-to-eat foods.
  • If possible, use two cutting boards—one for fresh produce and the other for raw meat, poultry, and seafood. Otherwise, be sure to wash the cutting board with hot, soapy water between each use. You can also wash your knives and cutting boards in the dishwasher to disinfect them. Replace cutting boards when they have become worn or have developed hard-to-clean grooves.
  • Keep kitchen surfaces clean with hot, soapy water. Wash dishcloths and towels often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.
  • Wash raw fruits and vegetables under running water before eating them.
  • Marinate foods in a covered dish in the refrigerator, not on the counter.
  • Never thaw frozen meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish at room temperature. Thaw in the refrigerator or microwave. If you thaw food in the refrigerator, be sure juices do not drip onto other food. Place these foods on the lowest shelf, never above ready-to-eat foods.
  • Cook food immediately after thawing.

How to handle food that has mold on it

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends the following when handling food that has mold on it:footnote 2

Do not smell food that is covered with mold. This could cause lung problems. If food is very moldy, throw it away. Place it a trash can that children and animals cannot get into.

Some types of food should be thrown away if they have some mold, while others can be used safely.

  • Mold on moist foods can be growing under the surface. These foods may also be contaminated with bacteria and should be thrown away. Examples of food with high moisture levels include:
    • Hot dogs, bacon, lunch meats, and leftover cooked meat.
    • Leftover cooked grains and noodles.
    • Soft cheese and other dairy products, such as yogurt.
    • Bread and bakery items.
    • Nut butters, such as peanut butter.
    • Soft fruit and vegetables, such as peaches, tomatoes, and plums. This also includes jam and jelly.
  • Moldy foods that can still be used include:
    • Hard salami and dry-cured ham. Scrape the mold from the surface before using.
    • Cheeses made with mold (such as bleu and Gorgonzola) that have a different type of mold growing on the surface and hard cheeses (such as Parmesan and Romano). Cut away at least 1 in. (2.5 cm) around and under the moldy area before using.
    • Firm fruits and vegetables (such as cabbage and carrots). Cut away at least 1 in. (2.5 cm) around and under the moldy area before using.



  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010, updated 2011). Keeping hands clean. Available online:
  2. U. S. Department of Agriculture (2013). Molds on food: Are they dangerous? United States Department of Agriculture. Accessed February 3, 2017.


Current as of: February 9, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine

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