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How to Avoid Food Poisoning: 6 Tips

chicken-barbequeby D. Milton Stokes, R.D.

Q. During the holidays, I sometimes leave leftovers out for people to munch on. Is that safe?

A. There are about 76 million cases of food-borne illness yearly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prefention. And you can't tell if food has been left out too long by looking at or smelling it.

Here are a few of the many steps you can take to avoid food poisoning:

  1. Wash your hands frequently, especially when handling food. (Scrub with soap for 20 seconds.)newsletter-graphic
  2. Thaw food on a plate in the refrigerator or microwave, not on the counter, and cook it immediately after thawing.
  3. Avoid cross-contamination.
  4. Cook food to the proper temperature. (Use a meat thermometer, which measures the inside temperature of the meat, to make sure you cook the roasts and steaks to at least 145 degrees Farenheit, whole poultry to 180, ground meat to at least 160 and ground poultry to 165.)
  5. Store leftovers promptly. It's generally acceptable to leave food at room temperature for two hours, unless that room's temperature is greater than 90 degrees. In that case, refrigerate within one hour.
  6. The most important guiding principle is: If in doubt, toss it out.

D. MILTON STOKES, M.P.H., R.D., C.D.N., is a registered dietitian with One Source Nutrition in Norwalk, Conn., and a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.


Last updated and/or approved: November 2010.
Original article appeared in winter 2005 former print magazine. This general health-care information is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.
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