9.2018_food safety blog

Food safety – how to cook, serve, and store

14/Sep/18 / 06:00

As fresh produce, dried cereal, and raw meat are inspected, sorted and packed by volunteers in our warehouse nearly every day, food safety is a top priority here at the Food Bank. We handle the food distributed to our member agencies with care in order to safely provide nutritious meals to half a million of our neighbors in need each year.
Whether you’re serving half a million people or a family of four, food safety is essential to a healthy life. Follow these tips to keep your food fresh and safe to eat:

Safety first in the kitchen

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlines four best practices to prevent food poisoning before, during, and after cooking at home.(1)

  • Clean your hands and kitchen surfaces well before and during cooking. Be sure to rinse any fresh fruits and vegetables under running water, as well.

  • Separate any raw meat/poultry/seafood/eggs from ready to eat foods (e.g. fresh produce). This includes using a separate cutting board for these raw items.

  • Cook your meal to the correct temperature. Use a cooking thermometer, as you can’t rely on the color and texture of food to indicate if it’s safely cooked. Click here for a detailed list of food and safe temperatures.

  • Chill food before and after cooking. Keep your fridge below 40F and never leave perishable food (include cooked dishes) out for more than two hours. Frozen foods should be thawed in the fridge, in cold water, or in the microwave – never on the counter.


Serve and store safely

After you’ve prepared a meal, keep food safe to eat by following these tips from the CDC:(2)

  • When cooking in advance for a party or meal planning, store the prepared food in shallow containers to promote rapid, even cooling.

  • Hot foods should be left in slow cookers, chafing dishes, or warming trays on the table where guests can serve themselves.

  • Cold foods should be served in small trays, which can be replaced often with fresh servings from the fridge. You can also place dishes in bowls of ice to keep food chill.

  • Leftovers must be refrigerated within two hours of preparation, including hot meals. To safely enjoy later, heat your leftovers to at least 165F. Click here for more information on the storage life of a variety of foods.


Is this still good to eat?

Before you toss those crackers or cook with that chicken, take a look at the date on the packaging…

  • Use-by dates are typically found on refrigerated foods, which are at their peak on or before the date. Be cautious before eating or cooking with these foods, as their quality rapidly decreases after the use-by date.

  • Sell-by dates are found on items like bread, dairy, and meat and are used by the store to identify which unsold products to pull off the shelf. According to the Institute of Food Technologists, 1/3 of the product’s shelf-life still remains after this date – consume with caution.

  • Best-by dates, found on crackers and chips, mark the suggested date to ensure ideal food quality. Even past the date, the product is typically safe to eat; you can use your sense of smell and taste to check.

For additional information on specific products, click here.

How You Can Help:


  • Volunteer at one of our Centers in Geneva, Rockford or Park City sorting and packing food
  • Donate to help us solve hunger in your community – every $1 donated provides $8 worth of food.



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(1) “Four Steps to Food Safety.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 Apr. 2018.

(2) “Food Safety for Buffets and Parties.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2 Apr. 2018.