||Food Safety and Inspection
United States Department of Agriculture
Washington, D.C. 20250-3700
Consumer Education and Information
Online Version Slightly Revised May 1998
Food Safety in the Kitchen: a "HACCP"
Processing plants will be required to test meat and poultry
for bacteria under new USDA rules intended to reduce
disease-producing organisms known as "pathogens."
The plants must implement HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical
Control Points) systems as a means of controlling their
processes to prevent microbial contamination.
Even though HACCP in the plants will significantly reduce
pathogens on meat and poultry products, these foods will not be
sterile. While it's not practical to do microbial testing in home
kitchens, the HACCP approach is also valid to help the consumer
learn and practice safe food handling and preparation of all meat
and poultry at home.
The improved inspection system will not replace good
sanitation and safe food handling in the home. Consumers must
still share in the responsibility for safe food and safe food
handling. Meat and poultry which are properly handled and cooked
at home should be safe.
About the New Rule
USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is
pursuing a broad and long-term science-based strategy to improve
the safety of meat and poultry products and to better protect the
public health. Part of this strategy is a farm-to-table
approach to improve the safety of meat and poultry at each step
in the food production, distribution, and marketing chain.
As a result, FSIS has published new regulations to modernize
USDA's meat and poultry inspection system. Part of these
regulations include a HACCP system of process controls to prevent
food safety hazards.
HACCP focuses on problem prevention. It involves
taking a look at processes or food handling practices and
identifying critical control points, or steps, where failure to
take appropriate action is most likely to result in foodborne
What Does HACCP Mean to the Consumer in the Home?
Recent surveys show that consumers are more aware these days
of food safety issues. According to Bessie Berry, Acting Manager
of USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline, "A recent Associated
Press poll revealed that 89% of those surveyed said they follow
the safety handling instructions on raw meat and poultry
products. The safe handling instructions are really part of a
HACCP approach which starts in the store and continues in the
But do consumers really understand what hazards and critical
control points are? As in the meat and poultry plants, potential
hazards in the home can be divided into three categories:
- biological (bacteria);
- chemical (cleaning agents); and
- physical (equipment).
This focus will be on the biological hazards, or
foodborne bacteria, which can lead to illness if the food is
mishandled, particularly for those more at risk -- the very
young, the elderly and the immuno-compromised.
Certain processes or handling practices by consumers in the
home have been identified as being essential or critical in
preventing foodborne illness. These practices, which prevent or
control the "dinner plate" microbial contamination
associated with foodborne illness, are under the direct control
of the consumer, from food acquisition through disposal.
They are purchasing, storing, pre-preparation, cooking,
serving, and handling leftovers. Failure to take appropriate
action at these critical points could result in foodborne
Critical Point 1: PURCHASING
- Purchase meat and poultry products last and keep packages
of raw meat and poultry separate from other foods,
particularly foods that will be eaten without further
cooking. Consider using plastic bags to enclose
individual packages of raw meat and poultry.
- Make sure meat and poultry products -- whether raw,
pre-packaged, or from the deli -- are refrigerated when
- USDA strongly advises against purchasing fresh,
pre-stuffed whole birds.
- Canned goods should be free of dents, cracks or bulging
- Take food straight home to the refrigerator. If travel
time will exceed one hour, pack perishable foods in a
cooler with ice and keep groceries and cooler in the
passenger area of the car during warm weather.
Critical Point 2: HOME STORAGE
- Verify the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer
with an appliance thermometer -- refrigerators should run
at 40° F or below; freezers at 0° F. Most foodborne
bacteria grow slowly at 40° F, a safe refrigerator
temperature. Freezer temperatures of 0° F stop bacterial
- At home, refrigerate or freeze meat and poultry
- To prevent raw juices from dripping on other foods in the
refrigerator, use plastic bags or place meat and poultry
on a plate.
- Wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds
before and after handling any raw meat, poultry, or
- Store canned goods in a cool, clean dry place. Avoid
extreme heat or cold which can be harmful to canned
- Never store any foods directly under a sink and always
keep foods off the floor and separate from cleaning
Critical Point 3: PRE-PREPARATION
- The importance of hand washing cannot be
overemphasized. This simple practice is the most
economical, yet often forgotten way to prevent
contamination or cross-contamination.
- Wash hands (gloved or not) with soap and water for 20
seconds: before beginning preparation; after handling raw
meat, poultry, seafood or eggs; after touching animals;
after using the bathroom; after changing diapers; or
after blowing the nose.
- Don't let juices from raw meat, poultry or seafood come
in contact with cooked foods or foods that will be eaten
raw, such as fruits or salad ingredients.
- Wash hands, counters, equipment, utensils, and cutting
boards with soap and water immediately after use.
Counters, equipment, utensils and cutting boards can be
sanitized with a chlorine solution of 1 teaspoon liquid
household bleach per quart of water. Let the solution
stand on the board after washing, or follow the
instructions on sanitizing products.
- Thaw in the refrigerator, NEVER ON THE COUNTER. It
is also safe to thaw in cold water in an airtight plastic
wrapper or bag, changing the water every 30 minutes till
thawed. Or, thaw in the microwave and cook the product
- Marinate foods in the refrigerator, NEVER ON THE
- USDA recommends that if you choose to stuff whole
poultry, it is critical that you use a meat thermometer
to check the internal temperature of the stuffing. The
internal temperature in the center of the stuffing should
reach 165° F before removing it from the oven. Lacking a
meat thermometer, cook the stuffing outside the bird.
Critical Point 4: COOKING
- Always cook thoroughly. If harmful bacteria are present,
only thorough cooking will destroy them; freezing or
rinsing the foods in cold water is not sufficient to
- Use a meat thermometer to determine if your meat
or poultry or casserole has reached a safe internal
temperature. Check the product in several spots to assure
that a safe temperature has been reached and that harmful
bacteria like Salmonella and certain strains of E.
coli have been destroyed.
- Avoid interrupted cooking. Never refrigerate
partially cooked products to later finish cooking on
the grill or in the oven. Meat and poultry products must
be cooked thoroughly the first time and then they may be
refrigerated and safely reheated later.
- When microwaving foods, carefully follow manufacturers
instructions. Use microwave-safe containers, cover,
rotate, and allow for the standing time, which
contributes to thorough cooking.
Critical Point 5: SERVING:
- Wash hands with soap and water before serving or eating
- Serve cooked products on clean plates with clean utensils
and clean hands. Never put cooked foods on a dish that
has held raw products unless the dish is washed with soap
and hot water.
- Hold hot foods above 140° F and cold foods below 40°
- Never leave foods, raw or cooked, at room temperature
longer than 2 hours. On a hot day with temperatures at
90° F or warmer, this decreases to 1 hour.
Critical Point 6: HANDLING LEFTOVERS
- Wash hands before and after handling leftovers. Use clean
utensils and surfaces.
- Divide leftovers into small units and store in shallow
containers for quick cooling. Refrigerate within 2 hours
- Discard anything left out too long.
- Never taste a food to determine if it is safe.
- When reheating leftovers, reheat thoroughly to a
temperature of 165° F or until hot and steamy. Bring
soups, sauces and gravies to a rolling boil.
- If in doubt, throw it out.
For additional food safety information about meat, poultry
or eggs, call the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1
(800) 535-4555; Washington D.C. area (202) 720-3333. It is
staffed by home economists, dietitians and food technologists
from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET year round. An extensive selection of
food safety recordings can be heard 24 hours a day using a
The media may call Bessie Berry, Acting Director, USDA Meat
and Poultry Hotline, at (202) 720-5604.
Information is also available on the Internet from the USDA
Food Safety and Inspection Service Home Page at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/
For Further Information Contact:
FSIS Food Safety Education Staff
Meat and Poultry Hotline:
- 1-800-535-4555 (Toll-free Nationwide)
- (202) 720-3333 (Washington, DC area)
- 1-800-256-7072 (TDD/TTY)
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