Sometimes a simple mistake can have grave consequences. What may seem like a small food safety mistake can cause serious illness with long-term consequences.
When it comes to some germs, such as Salmonella, all it takes is 15 to 20 cells in undercooked food to cause food poisoning. And just a tiny taste of food with botulism toxin can cause paralysis and even death.
Here are some common food safety mistakes that have been proven to cause serious illness.
Mistake #1: Tasting food to see if it’s still good
- Why: You can’t taste (or smell or see) the bacteria that cause food poisoning. Tasting only a tiny amount can cause serious illness.
- Solution: Throw food out before harmful bacteria grows. Check the Safe Storage Times chart to be sure.
Mistake #2: Putting cooked meat back on a plate that held raw meat
- Why: Germs from the raw meat can spread to the cooked meat.
- Solution: Always use separate plates for raw meat and cooked meat. The same rule applies to poultry and seafood.
Mistake #3: Thawing food on the counter
- Why: Harmful germs can multiply extremely rapidly at room temperature.
- Solution: Thaw food safely: in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave
Mistake #4: Washing meat or poultry
- Why: Washing raw meat or poultry can spread bacteria to your sink, countertops, and other surfaces in your kitchen.
- Solution: Don’t wash meat, poultry, or eggs.
Mistake #5: Letting food cool before putting it in the fridge
- Why: Illness-causing bacteria can grow in perishable foods within two hours unless you refrigerate them
- Solution: Refrigerate perishable foods within 2 hours (or within 1 hour if the temperature is over 90˚F.
Mistake #6: Eating raw cookie dough (or other foods with uncooked eggs)
- Why: Uncooked eggs may contain Salmonella or other harmful bacteria.
- Solution: Always cook eggs thoroughly. Avoid foods that contain raw or undercooked eggs.
Mistake #7: Marinating meat or seafood on the counter
- Why: Harmful germs in meat or seafood can multiply extremely rapidly at room temperature.
- Solution: Always marinate meat or seafood in the refrigerator.
Mistake #8: Using raw meat marinade on cooked food
- Why: Germs from the raw meat (or seafood) can spread to the cooked food.
- Solution: You can reuse marinade only if you bring it to a boil just before using.
Mistake #9: Undercooking meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs
- Why: Cooked food is safe only after it’s been cooked to a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria
- Solution: Use the Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures chart and a food thermometer.
Mistake #10: Not washing your hands
- Why: Germs on your hands can contaminate the food that you or others eat.
- Solution: Wash hands the right way—for 20 seconds with soap and running water.