Questions from the Hotline: Food Safety for College Students
Welcome to USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service Food Safety at home
podcast series. These podcasts were designed with you in mind - the consumer - who
purchases and prepares meat, poultry and processed egg products
for your family and friends.
Each episode will bring you a different food safety topic ranging from safe storage, handling,
and preparation of meat, poultry and processed egg products to the importance of keeping
foods safe during a power outage.
So sit back, turn up the volume and listen in.
Welcome to “Food Safety at Home”. This is Gertie Hurley with the Food Safety and Inspection
Service. I am your host for this segment. When students pack up for college, they usually
take along the basics - TV, laptop, MP3 player and cell phone. Many students may also
have a microwave oven and a refrigerator available to them. First, students however, may
overlook important food safety practices when they handle and prepare food.
The USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline is staffed with food safety specialists with backgrounds
in home economics, nutrition and food technology. The hotline often receives calls from
parents and college students seeking answers to their questions on food safety. Many of
them have questions about the handling and storage of food. Today, we will discuss a few
of those questions.
Joining me to answer the questions today is Diane Van of the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline.
Welcome to the show, Diane.
Thank you Gertie. I am pleased to be here.
First before we get started. What are some basic guidelines we want to give the college
student about food safety?
In a previous episode we covered the four food safety messages of Clean, Separate, Cook
Gertie, we want the college student to begin by practicing the four simple steps of,
Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill to Be Food Safe and help reduce their
risk of foodborne illness when handling and preparing foods:
- Clean. Wash hands and surfaces often.
- Separate. Separate raw meat, poultry and egg products from cooked foods
to avoid cross-contamination.
- Cook. Raw meat, poultry and egg products need to be cooked safely. It’s
important to use a food thermometer to ensure foods have reached a high enough temperature
to kill any harmful bacteria that might be present.
- Chill. Refrigerate promptly.
We are off to a good start Diane and should keep Clean, Separate Cook and Chill
Let’s begin with question 1. Several slices of pizza have been left out overnight. Is
the pizza still safe to eat Diane?
No. Perishable food should never be left out of refrigeration for more than two hours.
This is true even if there are no meat products on the pizza. Foodborne bacteria that
may be present on these foods grow fastest at temperatures between 40 and 140 °F and can
double every 20 minutes. Other take-out or delivered foods such as chicken, hamburgers,
cut fruit, salads, and party platters, must also be kept at a safe temperature. The rule
is to "Keep HOT Food HOT and COLD Food COLD!" To keep hot foods safe, keep them at 140
°F or above.
Cold food must be kept at 40 °F or below (in the refrigerator or freezer). Bacteria grow
rapidly between 40 and 140 °F. To discard perishable food left out at room temperature
longer than 2 hours; 1 hour in temperatures above 90 °F. Use safely refrigerated food
in 3 to 4 days; frozen leftovers, 1 to 2 months.
Question 2. I am living off campus this year. My two roommates and I will be preparing
our own meals. What do we need to know to cook food safely?
Being food safe is all about Clean, Separate Cook and Chill. When preparing
frozen meats, thaw them in the refrigerator - NOT on the counter. Don't allow raw meat
or poultry juices to drip on other foods. Wash your hands before and after preparing foods
and always use clean paper towels when drying hands. Wash cutting boards and utensils
in hot, soapy water.
Use a food thermometer to check internal temperatures. Cook meat and poultry to safe minimum
If you feel food has not been handled safely, throw it out.
- Beef, veal, and lamb steaks, roasts, and chops may be cooked to 145 °F.
- Ground beef, veal and lamb to 160 °F.
- All poultry should reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F.
Question 3. The student says, "I don't have a car on campus so I have to take the bus
to get groceries. Will the food be safe by the time I get it to my apartment?"
Whether you use public transportation or you use your own car, it's important that perishable
purchases are refrigerated within 2 hours (1 hour when the temperature is above 90 °F).
First, when buying food, avoid cross-contamination by placing raw meat, poultry, and seafood
in plastic bags and keep them separated from other foods in your grocery-shopping cart
and remember after your purchases are bagged, go home immediately.
If you can't get home within the recommended times, you may want to take a cooler or insulated
bag with frozen gel packs to keep perishable food safe in transit.
Question 4. Our dorm has a kitchen with a microwave on each floor. When I microwave the
food according to the package's instructions, it's still partly frozen. Why doesn't it
get hot enough?
In a large building like a dorm, electrical equipment such as computers, toaster-ovens,
hair dryers and irons compete for current and reduce the electrical wattage of a microwave.
A community oven that has been used just before you, will cook slower than a cold oven.
To compensate, set the microwave for the maximum time given in the instructions.
Cover foods during cooking and remember to stir or rearrange food and rotate the dish.
Its important to allow for standing time. The food continues to cook during this period.
Finally, use a food thermometer when reheating leftovers to ensure the food reaches the
safe internal temperature of 165 °F. If the food has not reached that temperature, add
more cooking time.
I have another microwave question. Final Question number 5. What containers are safe for
Use Only cookware that is specially manufactured for use in the microwave oven such as
microwave-safe glass and ceramic containers, microwave-safe plastic wraps, wax paper,
cooking bags, parchment paper, and white microwave-safe paper towels. And remember to
always use a clean food thermometer to check that leftovers have reached 165 °F.
Do not let plastic wrap touch foods during microwaving. Never use thin plastic storage
bags, brown paper or plastic grocery bags, newspapers, or aluminum foil in the microwave
I am sure parents and college students alike will appreciate this information. That's
it for this week. We have been talking to Diane Van from the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline.
Thank you Diane for answering all those great questions from college students and parents.
I am Gertie Hurley and I’d like to thank you for joining us for this episode of "Food
Safety at Home" and remember, “Be Food Safe.”
Well, that’s all for this time. Thanks for joining us today for another episode of
food safety at home!
For answers to your food safety questions call USDA's toll-free meat and poultry hotline
at 1-888-mphotline. That’s 1-888-674-6854.
You can also get answers to food safety questions online from our virtual representative
"ask karen" at www.askkaren.gov .
Let us know what you think of this podcast by sending your comments to
Thanks for tuning in.
Last Modified: September 9, 20088