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Safe Food - Food Safety by the Numbers

Food Safety Basics


Updated September 10, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

This roast turkey is below the safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F.

This roast turkey is below the safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F.

Photo by Annabelle Breakey/Getty Images

Safe Food

Is there a safe food when it comes to food poisoning?

Eggs, fruits, meats, vegetables and even organic sprouts can become contaminated.

That makes it important to learn how to keep your food safe. Although many things are being done to reduce contamination before food gets to us, it is just as important to prepare, cook and store food properly so that our kids don't get sick.

Food Safety by the Numbers

There are some numbers related to food safety that most people are all too familiar with - about 48 million people get sick from food poisoning each year, sending 100,000 people to the hospital, and about 3,000 deaths.

Reducing food poisoning is a "winnable battle," according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Safe food doesn't just happen though. It takes a little work, starting with understanding some of the numbers associated with food safety, such as:

  • 4 - the number of steps to proper food safety - clean, separate, cook, chill

  • 0˚F - the temperature to set your freezer (0˚F or below)

  • 40˚F - the temperature to set your refrigerator (between 40˚F and 32˚F)

  • 140˚F - the temperature you should keep food after cooking

  • 145˚F - the minimum internal temperature to cook pork, fresh ham, steaks, roasts, chops and other whole meats

  • 160˚F - the minimum internal temperature to cook egg dishes and ground meat

  • 165˚F - the minimum internal temperature to cook poultry and reheat leftovers

  • 3 minutes - the amount of "rest time" you should wait to make sure harmful germs are killed after cooking food, which is especially important after cooking steaks, roasts, chops, fresh pork and fresh ham.

  • 2 hours - the maximum about of time that perishable food should be left out before you put it in the refrigerator

  • 90˚F - the outside temperature that should alert you that you need to refrigerate perishable food after just one hour, instead of the usual two hours

  • 20 seconds - how long you should wash your hands before, during and after preparing food and before eating.

  • 4 hours - the amount of time that a refrigerator will usually keep food cold if the power goes out and the refrigerator door is not opened. After that time, throw out perishable food that has been above 40˚F for two hours or more.

  • 3 to 4 days - how long most leftovers can be safely stored in the refrigerator

  • 15 to 20 - the number of Salmonella cells in undercooked food that can cause food poisoning

  • Less than 5 minutes - how long it takes to report a case of food poisoning to your local health department so that you can help to prevent a larger outbreak.

Remember to use a food thermometer to check internal temperatures, as you can't tell when foods are safely cooked by simply looking at them.

And be on the alert for food recalls, to make sure that you don't have contaminated foods in your home.


U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Charts: Food Safety at a Glance. Accessed September 2011.

CDC Vital Signs. Making Food Safer To Eat. June 2011. Accessed September 2011.

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