Top 10 Tips for Practicing Stay-at-Home Food Safety

People around the world are practicing social distancing and self-isolation at home, which means more home-cooked meals and an increased need for proper food handling, storage and cooking techniques.

“With more people cooking their own meals at home, it’s important to practice the highest standards of food safety, cleanliness and hygiene,” says Lisa Yakas, consumer product expert at NSF International. “While the latest science shows the coronavirus is not transmitted by food, it’s always important to follow food safety tips to avoid other risks like E. coli, Salmonella, yeast and mold, which may result in foodborne illness.”

NSF expert

1. Avoid overpacking your refrigerator

It may be tempting to overpack and stuff your refrigerator with stockpiled groceries but remember air circulation is needed to keep foods cool. Use a thermometer to make sure foods inside the fridge are kept at 40˚ F (4˚ C) or below. This may mean adjusting the temperature of the fridge lower than 40˚ F (4˚ C). While you want to avoid overpacking your fridge, keep in mind that a freezer is more efficient when kept full.

2. Be strategic loading your refrigerator

  • Designate a drawer or container for raw meat to thaw in the fridge. This prevents juices from getting anywhere other than that drawer or container.
  • Do not store pre-cooked meat or plant-based “meat” next to raw meat to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Wash and rinse all fresh produce before putting it away.
  • Pro tip: Wipe down all plastic packaging and bottles recently purchased from the grocery store with a sanitizing wipe before putting them away in your refrigerator or pantry.

3. Allow leftovers to cool before storing them

Did you know there is a safe way to store leftovers? The most important step of proper storage is not letting leftovers stay out at room temperature longer than two hours. When storing leftovers, distribute the food into smaller 1”-2” deep, airtight containers and allow the food to adequately cool before putting it away in the fridge.

4. Reheat leftovers the safe way

When reheating leftovers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends allowing food to reach to 165° F (74 °C). When using a microwave, stir food halfway through cooking. Remember to check the temperature of your food in several places with a certified thermometer.

5. Know when leftovers in the fridge or freezer will expire

The general rule for leftovers stored in the fridge is to consume them within three to four days. If you don’t plan to eat leftovers right away, consider freezing them. Leftovers can be stored in the freezer for two to three months. Pro tip: Label your containers with the date it was stored so you know when to discard.

6. Thaw frozen foods the right way

Here are three different methods to defrost or thaw your food properly:

  • Thaw in the refrigerator. Contain raw meat so the juices do not contaminate other food in your fridge. Plan on a thawing time of four to five hours per pound for most foods when using this method.
  • Run under cold water or set into cold water. If you set the frozen food in water, change the water every 30 minutes to keep the food from getting too warm. It may take about 30 minutes per pound. Only use this method if you plan to cook the food immediately afterward.
  • Thaw or defrost in the microwave. You should also only use this method if you plan to cook the food immediately afterward. Follow the directions for your microwave or use the defrost setting.

While thawing frozen foods, make sure the internal temperature of the food never gets into the “danger zone” between 40˚ F (4˚ C) and 140˚ F (60˚ C), which can allow bacteria to multiply rapidly and cause foodborne illness.

Remember never to thaw food on the countertop or at room temperature as it can cause uneven temperatures throughout the food.

If you do cook from frozen, cook time will take approximately 50% longer than the recommended time for fully thawed or fresh meat and poultry.

7. Pay close attention to expiration dates

With so much more canned food in the house, take a close look at the expiration dates and know the difference between best by, use by and expired by dates.

  • Expiration and use by dates: Refer to food safety. Do not consume food past these dates.
  • Sell by dates: Are references for retailers to let them know how long to display an item for sale.
  • Best used by dates: Are a guide to how long a product will retain peak quality and freshness.

8. Know the difference between cleaning and disinfecting

Cleaning is the process of removing soil, germs and dirt from a surface. Disinfecting is the process of using chemicals to kill microorganisms that are on a surface, which is top priority as the COVID-19 virus spreads. One way to do this is by using a 70% alcohol solution. Another option is to use five tablespoons (1/3 cup) of household unscented bleach in one gallon of water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a list of effective EPA-registered disinfectant products that qualified for use against SARS-CoV-2.

9. Engage the whole family in cleaning high-touch surfaces

Having a difficult time keeping your kids occupied during their new remote school days? Kids make for excellent helpers in sanitizing the home! Engage them in a challenge that involves identifying all the common touch points of the house including countertops, refrigerator handles, knobs on kitchen cabinets, faucet handles, appliance buttons/panels and light switches. Adults can clean and disinfect the identified touch points.

10. Wash your hands!

And as always, one of the easiest ways to prevent the spread of germs is to properly wash your hands. Download our infographic to print and share.

“As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to increase around the world, it’s important to stay focused on the things you can control,” adds Yakas. “Food safety, cleanliness and hygiene within your home are all things you have 100% control over and help ensure the health and safety of you and your loved ones.”

For media inquiries, please contact Lindsay Karpinskas at lkarpinskas@nsf.org. To submit questions related to public health and safety issues, please contact info@nsf.org or +1800 673 8010.