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Food Handling and Housekeeping

Printable version of this fact sheet (PDF, 195 KB)

In the United States, food-borne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, and 5,000 deaths each year.  Most of the victims are very young, very old, or have weakened immune systems.  By storing and cooking foods safely and keeping your kitchen clean, you can reduce your family's risk of becoming ill.

Food Safety Housekeeping
Dust Allergies Pest Control

Food Safety

Meats, poultry, fish, dairy products, and eggs can spoil quickly.  These foods naturally contain bacteria that can cause illness if the foods are not stored or cooked properly.  Summertime picnics and grilling outdoors requires special precautions to keep food safe for everyone.  The Holidays and preparing a turkey or hardboiled eggs for a celebration may also present unique challenges for keeping food safe and preventing the spread of illness.

Tips on Food Handling

  • Avoid cross contamination.  Wash your hands every time before coming into contact with food.  Wash hands/utensils after handling raw meat, fish, or poultry.  

  • Wash your hands often.  Use soap and water to wash, and paper towels or clean cloth towels to dry your hands.  Research has proven that frequent hand washing is the most effective way to prevent food-borne illnesses.

  • Keep perishable foods refrigerated or frozen until they are used.  Thaw frozen items in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or a microwave (as part of the continuing cooking process).  Marinate food in the refrigerator.

  • Make sure the temperature in your refrigerator is below 40F.  Keep a thermometer in the refrigerator and check it often.  Adjust the thermostat to a cooler setting if necessary.

  • Examine foods and all date labeling.  Buy foods with the longest period to the expiration date.  Don't buy food items if the packaging is damaged.  Throw away foods that don’t look and smell fresh.  A change in the odor or appearance of foods is often a sign of spoilage.  Throw away eggs with cracked shells.

  • Be sure cutting boards and knives are thoroughly scrubbed and washed with soapy water after each use.  These items can easily transfer disease-causing bacteria from raw meats and poultry to vegetables, fruit, or cooked meat.  Use different cutting boards for raw and ready-to-eat foods.

  • Don’t use marinades that have come into contact with raw meat or poultry as dips or for basting.  If you want to use the marinade for these purposes, boil it first or prepare a separate portion for that use.

  • Store raw meat, poultry, and fish in the meat drawer of your refrigerator or in tightly sealed plastic bags to prevent juices from leaking onto other foods.  Thaw frozen meats, fish and poultry in a pan on the lowest shelf so that juices won't drip on other foods.

  • Cover ready-to-eat foods in the fridge to protect them from cross-contamination by raw meats or unclean surfaces.

  • Use effective and protective plastics for freezing foods.

  • Use a meat thermometer to be sure meats are thoroughly cooked, especially ground meats from combined sources, like hamburger.  Beef, lamb and pork should reach an internal temperature of at least 160F.  Juices should run clear and there should be no sign of pink inside the meat.  Poultry should reach an internal temperature of 170F (breasts) to 180F (whole birds and thighs).  The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a safe cooking temperature chart (exit DHS, PDF 478 KB) on their website.

  • Cook all seafood.  Avoid eating raw fish, raw clams, oysters, and mussels.  The US Food and Drug Administration recommends cooking seafood to an internal temperature of 145F for 15 seconds.

  • Cook eggs until the whites are firm and the yolks begin to harden.  Don’t eat foods that contain raw eggs such as cookie dough, egg dressings, eggnog, or homemade mayonnaise.  Pasteurized egg products are available that can be used safely to prepare these foods.

  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold until they are served.  To prevent illness hot foods should be held at 140F or higher and cold foods should be held at 40F or lower until they are served.

  • Cool foods rapidly before storage.  If you are preparing large quantities of food for later use, cool the food rapidly.  Some methods include: placing the container in an ice-water bath, dividing the food into several small containers before refrigerating, including ice as an ingredient, stirring with an ice wand, and providing greater air circulation around the product container.

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Many harmful germs can survive for several hours on kitchen surfaces.  Reduce your risk of illness by keeping cutting boards, countertops, utensils, dishcloths, and towels clean.  Don’t use sponges in the kitchen.  They tend to collect small food particles and are difficult to clean.

Use a weak chlorine bleach solution (2 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water) as a kitchen sanitizer.  You may want to keep a supply of this solution in a spray bottle near the sink.

Tips on Housekeeping

  • Clean and disinfect bathroom toilet bowls and seat, sinks, counters and tubs at least weekly.

  • Disinfect cutting boards.  Clean cutting boards in hot, soapy water using a scrub brush to remove food particles and germs that are lodged in the tiny crevices and cuts.  Then spray the boards with a weak chlorine bleach solution, rinse, and allow them to air dry.

  • Keep sink disposals and dishwashers free of food debris.  Keep counters and table tops clean.  Clean counters and tabletops after they are used for food preparation.  A weak bleach solution can be used to sanitize these surfaces.

  • Start each cooking session with a clean dishcloth and towel.  Damp sponges and dishcloths can harbor millions of germs.  Avoid using sponges in the kitchen and launder dishcloths and towels frequently. 

  • Remove trash/rubbish each day to discourage insects and other pests from entering your home.

  • Use disposable paper towels to wipe up juices from raw meat, poultry, or fish.

  • Wipe up spills in the refrigerator immediately.

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Dust Allergies 

Household dust contains many substances that can cause allergies, including animal dander, dust mites residues, molds, and plant pollens.  Room-sized and whole-house air filtration systems can reduce dust levels in your home.  Frequent damp mopping, vacuuming, and dusting are also important dust-control measures.

Tips for Allergy Sufferers

  • Install an air filter on your heating system.

  • Remove draperies, book collections, stuffed animals, and carpets from the bedroom of an allergy sufferer.

  • Use dust-proof mattress and pillow covers and wash these once a week in hot water.

  • Avoid feather and down-filled pillows and comforters.

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Pest Control 

Insects, mice and other pests enter homes in search of food, water, and shelter.  Once inside, they can be nuisance and may even pose a health hazard.   Discourage insects, rodents, and other pests from taking up residence in your home by limiting their access to food and water.

Since most pesticides are toxic and can trigger allergies or asthma attacks, they should be used only as a last resort.  Apply pesticides carefully, following the directions on the label.  If you have a question about the safe use or disposal of a pesticide, contact the manufacturer.  A toll-free telephone number and address are usually listed on the product label.

Tips on Pest Control

  • Keep countertops clean and wash dishes soon after eating.

  • Take out the trash every day.  Store trash outdoors in animal proof garbage cans with snug lids.

  • Keep cereals, crackers, cookies, and sugar in sealed containers.

  • Fix plumbing leaks so that water is not available to pests.

  • Caulk cracks around the foundation of your home and repair damaged siding.  Holes where electric and plumbing lines come through walls should be sealed.  Use screens on all windows and vents, and install tight-fitting outside doors to keep mice, bats and insects out.

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For more information 

Prepared by the
Wisconsin Dept of Health Services
Division of Public Health
Bureau of Environmental and Occupational Health

Last Revised: February 13, 2014