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Bacteria: one-celled, microscopic organisms that grow and multiply everywhere on Earth. They can be either useful or harmful to animals... more

Pathogen: a virus, bacterium, fungus or parasite that infects and harms a living host.

Keeping Our Food Safe

By Kristi Mollner

We do many things to keep ourselves safe. We buckle our seat belts while riding in a car and look both ways before crossing a street. Well, we also need to take careful steps to keep the food we eat safe. Food safety is an important part of keeping food free from pathogens. These pathogens can make us sick with a foodborne illness.

Food safety involves the proper handling, preparing, and storing of food. Below are a few important steps to make sure the food we eat is cooked properly.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

washing hands

Keeping your hands clean when handling food will help prevent foodborne illness. Click to learn more about proper hand washing techniques.

An important rule in food safety is to always wash our hands before we handle food.  Our hands carry different pathogens that can contaminate food. For this same reason, we should also keep all items that are in contact with foods clean. This includes things like utensils, counter tops, and cutting boards. Additionally, we should wash off fruits and vegetables before preparing or eating them. They could have come into contact with a harmful bacterium or virus.

Food Boundaries

Cross-contamination is the transfer of pathogens from one thing or person to another. This can spread pathogens between foods. It can occur when handling raw meat, poultry, fish, or eggs.

Safe Cooking Temperatures

It's important to cook foods at the proper temperature to avoid foodborne illnesses. Click to enlarge.

These raw foods should be kept separate from ready-to-eat foods like fruits and vegetables. Cross-contamination is another reason we should always keep our hands and other surfaces clean. This helps avoid spreading any pathogens to the foods we touch.

Let’s Get Cooking

Cooking foods to their proper temperatures is another very important rule in food safety. When foods reach a high enough internal temperature, harmful bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses are killed.  Various meats and fish have a minimal internal temperature that should always be reached during the cooking process. Eggs should also be fully cooked before eating. Additionally, leftover foods should be reheated to their proper temperature just to be safe.   

Keeping Things Cool

no more then 2 hours

Do not leave foods such as meat, dairy, fish, and eggs out at room temperature for more than two hours.

Keeping certain foods refrigerated is another important food safety rule. Pathogens reproduce faster in warmer temperatures, but the cold temperatures found within our refrigerators and freezers help to slow down the growth of pathogens. Foods including meat, dairy, fish, and eggs should not be left out at room temperature for more than two hours. When you finish eating, it’s best to put any leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer.

Together, these steps help us avoid or remove the pathogens that might be in our food. Follow these steps the next time you are cooking and you will be sure to enjoy a safe and pathogen-free meal.

Additional images from Wikimedia via Bill Branson (washing hands) and trekkyandy (washing broccoli).

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Bibliographic details:

  • Article: Keeping Our Food Safe
  • Author(s): Science Center
  • Publisher: Arizona State University School of Life Sciences Ask A Biologist
  • Site name: ASU - Ask A Biologist
  • Date published: September 30, 2014
  • Date accessed: May 15, 2024
  • Link:

APA Style

Science Center. (2014, September 30). Keeping Our Food Safe. ASU - Ask A Biologist. Retrieved May 15, 2024 from

American Psychological Association. For more info, see

Chicago Manual of Style

Science Center. "Keeping Our Food Safe". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 30 September, 2014.

MLA 2017 Style

Science Center. "Keeping Our Food Safe". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 30 Sep 2014. ASU - Ask A Biologist, Web. 15 May 2024.

Modern Language Association, 7th Ed. For more info, see
Remember to wash off fruits and vegetables before preparing or eating them.

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