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January 2019


We cannot see, smell or taste harmful bacteria that may cause foodborne illness.  Safe steps in food purchasing, handling, cooking and storage are essential in keeping food safe.

To prevent foodborne illness, always follow four basic steps:

  • CLEAN – wash hands and food contact surfaces often.
  • SEPARATE – raw and ready-to-eat foods; clean and unclean produce.
  • COOK – hold or reheat food to the right temperature. Cook thoroughly and use a food thermometer.  When microwaving, cover, rotate and stir food.  Reheat leftovers to 165°F.
  • CHILL – refrigerate food promptly or discard.  Always thaw and cool leftovers in the refrigerator.  When serving food, do not leave out for more than 2 hours. 

Although many foods have dates, they are not required to by federal law. Manufacturers date foods to indicate when the product is of best quality. This is not an indicator of food safety. What do the terms mean?

  • “Sell-By” – how long the store can display the product.
  • “Best if Used By” or “Use-By” – when you should eat or freeze the food for best quality. 

It may be good past this date if it was handled correctly.  Keep in mind, as soon as the package is opened these dates do not apply.  Refrigerated foods generally are good for 3-7 days, although condiments and hard cheeses will last longer.  If in doubt, throw it out. Here are more shelf-life guidelines:

FREEZER – if it has freezer burn, is unlabeled or has been in the freezer more than six-months, toss it out!


Shell Eggs 3 weeks Soups & Stews 3-4 days
Raw Poultry 1-2 days Leftovers 3-4 days
Raw Grd Meat 1-2 days Cooked Meat/Poultry 3-4 days

For more information contact the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1.800.535.4555 OR “ask Karen” at


  • Have a thermometer in your refrigerator/freezer; with refrigerator at 38-41°F and freezer below 0°F.
  • Avoid over-loading the refrigerator.
  • Keep eggs in original carton on the bottom shelf. Keep raw meat & poultry below cooked foods.
  • Date foods, especially leftovers.
  • Check dates on packaged foods, read storage labels.
  • Rotate foods - first in first out.
  • Store dry goods in containers with tight fitting lids.
  • Store spices & oil away from heat and light.
  • If cans show signs of leaking or bulging, toss them out.


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