Food Safety at Home: FAQ

chicago star  Frequently Asked Questions  chicago star

There are four simple steps that your family can follow at home to keep safe from food poisoning: Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.

Clean: Wash your hands, utensils, and surfaces often

  • Germs causing food poisoning can survive in many places around your kitchen, including your food, hands, utensils, cutting boards, and countertops.
  • Wash your hands before, during, and after preparing food and before eating. Keeping hands clean can prevent 1 in 3 diarrheal illnesses.
  • Wash surfaces, cutting boards, and utensils after preparing each food item.
  • Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running water before peeling, removing skin, or cutting away any damaged or bruised areas.
  • Don’t wash meat, poultry, eggs, or seafood to avoid spreading harmful germs around your kitchen.

Separate: Do not cross-contaminate.

  • Use separate cutting boards and plates for produce, meat, poultry, and seafood
  • Use separate plates and utensils for cooked and raw foods.
  • Keep certain types of food separate:
    • When grocery shopping, keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from other foods in your shopping cart.
    • At home, in the fridge, store raw meat, poultry, and seafood in containers or sealed, leakproof plastic bags. Freeze them if you’re not planning to use them within a few days. Keep eggs in their original carton.

Cook to the right temperature.

  • Food is safely cooked when the internal temperature is high enough to kill germs that can make you sick:
    • The only way to tell if food is safely cooked is to use a food thermometer. You can’t tell if food is safely cooked by checking its color and texture (except for seafood). Learn how to place the place the thermometer correctly in different food to get an accurate reading.
    • Cook all foods to these minimum internal temperatures as measured with a thermometer before removing food from the heat source:
      • Whole cuts of beef, veal, lamb, and pork, including fresh ham: 145°F (then allow the meat to rest for 3 minutes before carving or eating)
      • Fish with fins: 145°F or cook until the flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork
      • Ground meats, such as beef and pork: 160°F
      • All poultry, including ground chicken and turkey: 165°F
      • Leftovers and casseroles: 165°F
    • If reheating food in a microwave, follow recommended cooking and standing times. Letting food sit for a few minutes after microwaving allows cold spots to absorb heat from hotter areas and cook more completely. Use a food thermometer to make sure that microwaved food reaches 165F or above.

Chill: Refrigerate and freeze food promptly.

  • Bacteria can multiply rapidly if left at room temperature or in the “Danger Zone” between 41°F and 135°F.
  • Keep your refrigerator at 40°F or below and your freezer at 0°F or below and throw food out before it spoils.
  • Package warm or hot food into several clean, shallow containers and then refrigerate. It is okay to put small portions of hot food in the refrigerator since they will chill faster.
  • Refrigerate perishable food (meat, seafood, dairy, cut fruit, some vegetables, and cooked leftovers) within 2 hours. If the food is exposed to temperatures above 90°F, like a hot car or picnic, refrigerate it within 1 hour.
  • Thaw frozen food safely in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. Never thaw food on the counter because bacteria multiply quickly in the parts of the food that reach room temperature.

Links to Infographics: Four Steps to Food Safety (English) and (Spanish)

  • Step 1: Separate meat, poultry, and seafood from other food in shopping carts.
  • Step 2: Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from all other foods in the refrigerator.
  • Step 3: Don’t wash chicken, turkey, or other poultry.
  • Step 4: Use one cutting board or plate for raw meat, poultry, and seafood and a separate cutting board or plate for produce and other foods that won’t be cooked.
  • Step 5: Wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and water after touching raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs.
  • Step 6: Wash your utensil, cutting boards, and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs.
  • Step 7: Use separate plates for raw meat and cooked meat. The same advice is applied to poultry and seafood. 


Link to infographic: For a safe plate, don’t cross-contaminate

Anyone can get food poisoning, but certain groups of people are more likely to get sick and to have a more serious illness. Their bodies’ ability to fight germs and sickness is not as effective for a variety of reasons. These groups of people are:

  • Adults Aged 65 and Older
  • Children Younger Than 5 Years
  • People with Weakened Immune Systems
  • Pregnant Women

Link to Infographics: People with a Higher Risk of Food Poisoning (English)

Food poisoning symptoms can be mild to very serious and can take a few hours or several days to develop. Your symptoms may be different depending on the germ you swallowed. The most common symptoms of food poisoning are:

  • Upset stomach
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever


See your doctor or healthcare provider if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Bloody diarrhea
  • High fever (temperature over 102°F, measured in your mouth)
  • Frequent vomiting that prevents keeping liquids down (which can lead to dehydration)
  • Signs of dehydration, including little or no urination, a very dry mouth and throat, or feeling dizzy when standing up
  • Diarrhea that lasts more than 3 days


  • Some foods are more associated with foodborne illnesses and food poisoning than others. They can carry harmful germs that can make you very sick if the food is contaminated.
  • Raw foods of animal origin are the most likely to be contaminated, specifically raw or undercooked meat, poultry and shellfish, as well as raw or lightly cooked eggs, unpasteurized (raw) milk, and products made with it, including soft cheese, ice cream, and yogurt
  • Fruits and vegetables also may get contaminated.
  • While certain foods are more likely to make you sick, any food can get contaminated in the field, during processing, or during other stages in the food production chain, including through cross-contamination with raw meat in kitchens.


Chicken, Beef, Pork, and Turkey

  • Do not wash raw poultry or meat before cooking it.
  • Thoroughly cook chicken, poultry products, and meat to kill bacteria.
  • Use a cooking thermometer to check the temperature.
  • Refrigerate leftovers at 40°F or colder within 2 hours after preparation.

Fruits and Vegetables

  • Avoid unwashed fresh produce.
  • Wash or scrub fruits and vegetables under running water before eating, cutting, or cooking, unless the package says the contents have been washed
  • Washing fruits and vegetables with soap, detergent or commercial produce wash is not recommended. Do not use bleach solutions or other disinfecting products on fruits and vegetables
  • Cut away any damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating
  • Dry fruit or vegetables with clean paper towel

Raw Milk, Raw Milk Soft Cheeses, and Other Raw Milk Products

  • Do not consume raw (unpasteurized) milk, soft cheeses, and other products to prevent from being infected by harmful germs

Eggs and Salmonella

  • Raw or undercooked eggs can contain a bacteria called Salmonella, that can make you sick
  • Avoid consuming foods with raw or undercooked eggs, such as homemade Cesar salad dressing, eggnog, and raw batter or dough
  • Cook eggs until the yolks and whites are firm
  • Cook food containing eggs thoroughly
  • Keep eggs refrigerated at 40F or colder

Seafood and Raw Shellfish

  • Raw or undercooked oysters can contain Vibrio bacteria, which can lead to an infection called vibriosis. Cook oysters well to avoid food poisoning.
  • Cook seafood to 145F, and heat leftover seafood to 165F
  • Do not eat raw or undercooked fish, shellfish, or food containing raw or undercooked seafood (e.g., sashimi, some sushi, and ceviche).


  • Raw alfalfa, clover, and mung bean sprouts are most commonly linked to food poisoning
  • To reduce the chance of food poisoning, cook sprouts thoroughly to kills harmful germs, such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria
  • Avoid eating raw or lightly cooked sprouts

Raw Flour

  • Never taste raw flour, dough, or batter, because flour is a raw agricultural product that has not been treated to kill germs
  • Bacteria are killed when food made with flour is cooked
  • Check Chicago food service inspection reports.
  • Look for certificates that show kitchen managers have completed food safety training.
  • Look for safe food-handling practices, such as workers wearing gloves.
  • Order food that’s properly cooked.
  • Avoid lukewarm food, especially if selecting food from a buffet or salad bar.
  • Ask your server if they use pasteurized eggs in foods such as Caesar salad dressing.
  • Refrigerate your leftovers within 2 hours and eat them within 3 to 4 days.


The Food Protection Program of the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) is committed to maintaining the safety of food bought, sold, or prepared for public consumption in Chicago by carrying out science-based inspections of all retail food establishments.
If you suspect you got food poisoning from a food establishment submit a report via CHI 311 or call 312.744.5000, if you are calling from outside Chicago