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food handling

Avoid Common Food Handling Mistakes with Safety Tips

Mishandling food often leads to contamination that causes foodborne illnesses. Being aware of the most common food safety mistakes and following key best practices can help reduce this risk. This article covers common food handling mistakes, how to prevent them, and safe handling tips for various common foods.

Common Food Handling Mistakes

Home cooks make some common food safety mistakes that raise the risk of foodborne diseases. Here are some of the top errors:

Not washing hands properly – Handwashing is a basic but critical step before and during food preparation. Many people don’t wash long enough or frequently enough, or forget to wash after handling raw meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood.

Undercooking: Hazardous bacteria can thrive when food, particularly meat, poultry, and eggs, are cooked at very low temperatures. For proper cooking, use a food thermometer.

Letting food sit at unsafe temperatures: Between 40°F and 140°F, bacteria grow quickly. Food shouldn’t be left in this dangerous area for longer than two hours at a time.

Cross-contamination: When bacteria are transferred from one food to another by hands, utensils, or surfaces. Frequently, this results from utilizing the same chopping board for raw meat and other meals.

Not checking expiration dates – Consuming food over its expiration date raises the risk of spoilage and foodborne illness. Examine labels and discard expired items.

Inadequate thawing – Thawing items incorrectly, such as on the counter, promotes bacterial growth. Thaw in the fridge, cold water, or the microwave.

Raw consumption of hazardous foods – Pathogens can be found in raw or undercooked eggs, pork, poultry, fish, and shellfish. Cook these dishes thoroughly.

Following fundamental food safety standards can help you avoid making these mistakes.

Preventing Food Handling Mistakes

Practicing proper hygiene, using thermometers, and monitoring temperatures are key ways to prevent common food-handling mistakes.

Wash hands and surfaces – Wash hands for 20 seconds with soap before and after handling food. Sanitize counters, cutting boards, utensils, and can openers.

Separate foods – Use different cutting boards, plates, and utensils for raw versus ready-to-eat foods. Store foods appropriately to avoid cross-contamination.

Cook and reheat thoroughly – Use a food thermometer to ensure meats reach safe internal temperatures. Reheat leftovers to 165°F.

Chill promptly – Refrigerate perishable foods within 2 hours. Divide food into shallow containers for fast chilling.

Check temperatures – Keep the refrigerator below 40°F and freezer below 0°F. Cook hot foods to proper temperatures.

Check expiration dates – Wait to purchase or consume foods past their use-by date. Store food properly to extend freshness.

When in doubt, discard it: Throw away food that seems, tastes, or smells rotten. Avoid tasting dubious food.

Preventing problems can be greatly increased by adhering to fundamental food safety best practices.

Safe Storage Advice for Certain Foods

Safe practices for handling, preparing, and storing various foods also lower the chance of contracting a foodborne illness.

Raw meat, poultry, and seafood – Cutlery and chopping boards should be kept separate for raw meat, poultry, and shellfish. Clean hands after interacting. Bring food to a safe internal temperature. Please instantly refrigerate. 

Eggs – Cook until yolks and whites are firm. Don’t consume raw or undercooked. Wash hands, utensils, and surfaces after contact.

Fruits and vegetables – Wash thoroughly under running water. Scrub firm produce with a brush. Dry with a clean towel. Refrigerate cut produce.

Dairy – Check use-by dates. Keep refrigerated until serving. Discard if moldy. Don’t leave unrefrigerated over 2 hours.

Cooked leftovers – Divide into shallow containers for quick cooling. Refrigerate within 2 hours. Use within 4 days. Reheat thoroughly.

Prepared foods – Check use-by dates. Follow reheating instructions. Refrigerate promptly after serving. Discard after 4 days.

Following individual food safety practices for each food type helps reduce risks. Proper handling, cooking temperatures, refrigeration, and hygiene are key.

Understanding typical food handling mistakes enables us to take steps to avoid those errors through improved practices. Paying attention to hygiene, temperatures, cross-contamination prevention, storage times, and cooking requirements for different foods reduces our risks of foodborne illness. Simple precautions in the kitchen make a big difference in food safety.


  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service. “Food Safety Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make.” _https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/mistakes
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Food Safety Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.” https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/mistakes.html
  3. U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service. “Safe Food Handling Fact Sheets.” https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-fact-sheets