Even the most experienced cooks need to follow kitchen rules. So whether you’re new to cooking or not, be sure to follow these guidelines so everyone is safe, healthy, and ready to have fun.
(1) Store all raw proteins at the bottom of your refrigerator. This prevents anything from dripping onto other foods and helps keep these other foods from causing serious or fatal illnesses.
(2) Cool foods in your refrigerator, not at room temperature, to ensure they reach ideal serving temperatures quickly without the threat of bacteria.
(3) Thaw frozen foods in your refrigerator, in your microwave, or under cold running water rather than at room temperature so bacteria doesn’t grow.
(4) All fruits and vegetables should be washed before you begin cooking with them. Always wash your hands before you begin cooking, and wash them again if they get messy, or if you touch raw meat, fish, or poultry.
(5) Don’t use the same cutting board for different meats and/or raw foods during your preparation steps. You can avoid cross-contamination by using specific boards for specific foods, but if you have more foods than boards, your best bet is to thoroughly wash your boards between each use — regardless of what’s been on them.
(6) Heat leftovers to at least 170°F (77°C). This baseline temperature ensures any microbes that are in cold food will be killed.
(7) Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds — using soap and hot water — after touching any raw meat or any surface where you’ve prepared raw meat. Quickly clean any surfaces that have been in contact with raw meat.
(8) Store food at below 40°F (4°C) or above 140°F (60°C), and never keep leftovers in your refrigerator for longer than seven days. If you need to keep something stored for longer, put it in the freezer — and try to eat it within the next few months.
(9) Consider using disposable latex or vinyl gloves when handling food. Not only will your hands stay clean, but you’ll also make fewer trips to the sink to wash up.
(10) Buy your food from reputable sources. If you don’t know where your source got its food, you’re asking for trouble. Make sure anything you buy has information about its origins.
(11) Be sure to check use-by dates on ingredients. Throw out any food that seems suspicious — whether it has a funny smell, looks spoiled, or anything else about it that seems unusual. You’re better safe than sorry by throwing something out than risking cooking it — or eating it.
(12) Properly clean cutting boards. Consult the directions that came with your cutting boards for the best way to clean them. For some, soap and hot water aren’t enough. However, properly cleaning your boards will go a long way toward not only making foods safer, but also keeping your boards in good condition.
(13) Tasting as you cook is part of the fun, but never try something containing uncooked meat, fish, poultry, or eggs.