Steven Cohen (202) 720-9113
September is Time for Food
WASHINGTON, Sept. 4, 2002 – September marks
the ninth annual National Food Safety
Education MonthSM (NFSEM) – a time
when many educators return from summer break
to teach the lessons of safe food handling
practices and how they can prevent foodborne
“American consumers today
are more aware of food safety issues than they
were in the past, but research shows consumers
have more to learn,” said Elsa Murano, under
secretary for food safety. “We need to be
aggressive with our food safety education programs
to continue the reductions in foodborne illnesses
we’ve already seen.” Murano said that FoodNet 2002
data on foodborne illness show a 23% overall
decrease for seven bacterial foodborne illnesses
since 1996, which may be the result of a more
educated public as well as improvements in the
meat and poultry inspection system.
Created by the foodservice
industry in 1995, NFSEM is widely supported by
federal, state and local agencies, the food
industry and consumer organizations. This year’s
NFSEM theme is Four Steps to Food Safety.
The goal is to communicate to consumers that each
of the messages highlighted during the last four
years, Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill,
are equally important and necessary to keep
Clean: Wash hands and surfaces
often. Wash hands with soap and water before
handling food and after using the bathroom,
changing diapers or handling pets.
cross-contaminate. Separate raw meat and poultry
from other foods. Never place cooked food on a
plate that previously held raw meat or poultry.
Cook: Cook to proper
temperatures. Use a food thermometer to measure
the internal temperature of cooked food.
Chill: Refrigerate promptly.
Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared food,
and leftovers within two hours, or within one hour
if the outside temperature is above 90 °F. Thaw
food in the refrigerator.
USDA’s Meat and Poultry
Hotline has been providing basic food safety
lessons to consumers for 17 years. Food safety
specialists are on hand to help consumers by
clearing up misconceptions about food safety
and providing vital information in a timely
manner. The most frequently asked questions
Top 10 Questions Received by
USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline
long can you keep a turkey, or other meat and
poultry products, in the freezer?
Because freezing keeps food safe almost
indefinitely, recommended storage times are for
quality only. Some foods will develop a rancid or
off odor when frozen too long and should be
discarded. Some may not look picture perfect or be
of high enough quality to serve alone but can be
used to make soups or stews. To maintain quality
in the freezer: use uncooked whole turkey or
chicken within 12 months; uncooked roasts and
poultry parts within nine months; uncooked steaks
or chops within four to six months, uncooked
ground meats within three to four months; and
cooked meat and poultry within three months.
2. What is the safest way to thaw frozen meat
The Hotline recommends three ways to defrost meat
and poultry: in the refrigerator, in cold water
and in the microwave. Never defrost meat and
poultry on the counter.
for slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator. Allow
about 24 hours for every five pounds to thaw in
poultry may be defrosted in cold water in its
airtight packaging or in a leak-proof bag.
Submerge in cold water, changing the water every
poultry defrosted in the microwave should be
cooked immediately after thawing because some
areas of the food may become warm and begin to
cook during microwaving. Holding partially cooked
food is not recommended because any bacteria
present would not be destroyed.
3. Is it safe to refreeze
food that has thawed completely?
Once food is thawed in
the refrigerator, then it is safe to refreeze
it without cooking. However, there may be a loss
of quality due to the moisture lost through
defrosting. After cooking raw foods that were
previously frozen, it is safe to freeze the cooked
foods. And if previously cooked foods are thawed
in the refrigerator, you may refreeze.
4. What is a safe
internal temperature for cooking meat and poultry?
and poultry require various temperatures for
"doneness.” Using a food thermometer is the only
way to be sure the food has reached an internal
temperature necessary to destroy harmful bacteria.
Whole poultry should reach 180 °F and breast meat,
170 °F. Ground beef should reach 160 °F and ground
poultry, 165 °F. Beef, veal and lamb steaks,
roasts and chops should be cooked to 145 °F. All
cuts of fresh pork should reach 160 °F. These
temperatures are recommended for consumer cooking.
Food service professionals should consult their
state or local food code.
5. Is it safe to eat
leftover food that was left out on the counter at
dinnertime, then forgotten until morning? Will
additional cooking kill the bacteria that may have
No. It is not safe to
eat food that has been left on the counter
overnight. Food that has been left on the counter
too long could smell and look fine but may be
dangerous to eat. If a food has been left in the
"Danger Zone" – between 40 and 140 °F – for more
than two hours, then discard it. Never taste a
food to see if it is spoiled.
everywhere in nature and grow most rapidly in
temperatures between 40° and 140 °F. Some double
in number in as little as 20 minutes. Certain
bacteria produce toxins that are not destroyed by
6. What should I do to keep refrigerated and
frozen foods safe during a power failure?
KEEP THE FREEZER DOOR CLOSED. Keep what
cold air you have inside. Don’t open the door any
more than necessary. A full freezer will keep food
frozen for about two days; a half-full freezer
about one day. If your freezer is not full, group
packages so they form an "igloo" to protect each
other. And, if you think power will be out for
several days, then dry ice may be placed in the
freezer to help keep food frozen.
THAWED FOOD CAN BE SAFELY KEPT. The foods in
your freezer that partially or completely thaw
before power is restored may be safely refrozen if
they still contain ice crystals or are 40 °F or
below. You will have to evaluate each item
separately. Be very careful with meat and poultry
products or any food containing milk, cream, sour
cream or soft cheese. “When in doubt, throw it
out.” In general, refrigerated
items should be safe as long as power is out
no more than four hours. Keep the door closed as
much as possible. Discard any perishable foods
(such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and leftovers)
that have been above 40 °F for two hours or more.
Dispose of any food that has an unusual odor,
color or texture, or feels warm to the touch.
USE AN APPLIANCE
THERMOMETER IN THE REFRIGERATOR AND FREEZER.
This will remove the guesswork of just how cold
the unit is because it will give you the exact
temperature. The key to determining the safety of
foods in the refrigerator and freezer is knowing
how cold they are. The refrigerator temperature
should be 40 °F or below and the freezer at 0 °F
7. How can I safely transport perishable foods
to a picnic site, community supper or family
When taking food away from home--on a picnic, for
example--try to plan just the right amount of
perishables to take. That way, you won't have to
worry about the storage or safety of leftovers.
Items that do not
require refrigeration include fruits, vegetables,
hard cheese, canned meat, canned fish, chips,
bread, crackers, peanut butter, jelly, mustard and
pickles. You don't need to pack them in a cooler.
Pack an insulated cooler
with sufficient ice or gel packs to keep the food
at 40 °F or below. Pack food right from the
refrigerator or freezer. Bacteria grow and
multiply rapidly in the “Danger Zone” between 40
°F and 140 °F. So, food transported without an ice
source or left out at a picnic won't stay safe
long. Don't put the cooler in the trunk;
carry it inside the air-conditioned car. At the
picnic, keep the cooler in the shade. Keep the lid
closed and avoid repeated openings. Chill cold
drinks in a separate cooler to avoid constantly
opening the cooler containing perishable foods.
8. How long are
canned goods safe?
Canned meat and poultry
will keep at best quality two to five years if the
can remains in good condition and has been stored
in a cool, clean, dry place. Store high-acid foods
such as tomatoes and other fruit up to18 months;
low acid foods such as meat and vegetables, two to
five years. Never put canned goods above the
stove, under the sink, in a damp garage or
basement, or any place exposed to high or low
While extremely rare, a
toxin produced by Clostridium botulinum is
the worst danger in canned goods. Never use food
from containers that show the possible "botulism"
warnings: leaking, bulging or badly dented cans;
cracked jars or jars with loose or bulging lids;
canned food with a foul odor; or any container
that spurts liquid when opening. Don’t taste such
food because even a minuscule amount of
botulinum toxin can be deadly.
9. Why is pre-packaged ground beef red on the
outside and sometimes dull, grayish-brown inside?
Oxygen from the
air reacts with meat pigments to form a bright red
color usually seen on the surface of meat
purchased in the supermarket. The pigment
responsible for the red color in meat is
oxymyoglobin, a substance found in all
warm-blooded animals. The interior of the meat may
be grayish-brown due to lack of oxygen. If all the
meat in the package has turned grey or brown, then
it may be beginning to spoil.
10. How do I prevent
cross-contamination (the transfer of harmful
bacteria from raw meat and poultry to ready-to-eat
food) when using a cutting board?
Always use a clean cutting board. Wash cutting
boards, dishes and counter tops with hot, soapy
water after preparing each food item and before
you go on to the next item. Use one cutting board
for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat,
poultry and seafood. Once cutting boards become
excessively worn or develop hard-to-clean grooves,
then you should replace them.
For more information in English and Spanish,
call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at
1-800-535-4555; TTY:1-800-256-7072. The Hotline’s
hours are Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4
p.m., Eastern Time, year-round. An extensive
selection of timely food safety messages is also
available at the same number 24 hours a day.
Information can also be accessed on the FSIS Web
site at www.fsis.usda.gov. E-mail inquiries
may be directed to