Food Safety in the Kitchen

An Insider Look at Food Safety by a Nutrition Expert

Publish Date September 9, 2022 6 Minute Read
Author Molly Hembree, MS, RD, LD

The first thing that crosses your mind when you eat is probably taste or nutrition, not whether your food is safe to eat. But it’s Food Safety Awareness Month, so we’re putting this important topic in the spotlight. We’ll cover basic food safety rules, the importance of the “danger zone,” a review of major foodborne illnesses and top strategies to reduce food safety concerns.

The 4 Basics of Food Safety

When we purchase food for our homes, we transition the responsibility of food safety from the restaurant, convenience center or grocery store to our own refrigerator, pantry or freezer. It’s so important to know the steps we should take to keep our food safe for eating. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) promote proper food safety with four steps: clean, separate, cook and chill.

  1. Clean: Wash your hands and work surfaces often. This includes washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water before, during and after food preparation, and rinsing fresh fruits and vegetables under running water.
  2. Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate. Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and their juices away from other foods when grocery shopping (and when loading into the refrigerator).
  3. Cook: Cook to the right temperature. Use a food thermometer to check internal food temperatures and keep food out of the “danger zone” (see below). Also, be sure to microwave food thoroughly.
  4. Chill: Refrigerate promptly. You should refrigerate perishable foods within two hours (or one hour if exposed to temperatures above 90°F). Thaw food in the refrigerator, cold water or your microwave. You should never thaw food on the counter.

Danger Zone

It’s vital to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Most pathogenic bacteria can double in number in as little as 20 minutes if left out at room temperature. For these reasons, the “danger zone” - or temperatures between 40°F and 140°F - was established as a tool to recognize the susceptibility of perishable foods to risk of bacterial growth. This temperature guidance includes storing, preparing and reheating food. The minimum internal temperatures (using a food thermometer) for cooking include:

  • 165°F: poultry, ground turkey, stuffing, casseroles, reheated leftovers
  • 160°F: egg dishes, ground beef
  • 145°F: beef, pork, lamb, veal, fish fillets, roasts, steaks, chops

Foodborne Illnesses

Foodborne illness, or foodborne disease or food poisoning, is estimated to make a staggering 48 million Americans sick annually. This includes 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths each year. Common symptoms of foodborne illness include digestive issues like nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea. However, symptoms can be more severe or life-threatening.

Older adults, young children, people with weakened immune systems and pregnant women are all at higher risk of contracting a foodborne illness. The top five germs that cause foodborne illnesses from food eaten in the U.S. include norovirus, salmonella, clostridium perfringens, campylobacter and staphylococcus aureus (staph).

Top Strategies to Reduce Hazardous Food Exposure

Foodborne illness can be caused by any food, though raw meat, poultry, eggs, shellfish and unpasteurized milk products are most likely to be contaminated.

Raw fruits and vegetables can also cause an increased risk of foodborne illness if contaminated water was used to irrigate, wash, pack or chill them.

When purchasing raw meat, poultry, eggs or shellfish, be sure to make a direct trip home to put the items in your refrigerator or freezer (also, prioritize putting these away before any other items from your shopping trip).

All raw fruits and vegetables (particularly leafy greens and sprouts) should either be cooked or thoroughly washed to reduce the risk of foodborne pathogens.

Rest assured, we’re always transparent about sharing the latest food safety recalls to protect you and your family. Visit to view all recent recalls, and be sure to use your Shopper’s Card or Alt ID each time you shop to be notified via automated messaging if something you purchased may be subject to a recall.

To learn more about our dedication to food safety, watch this Kroger Story. If you have questions about how to prepare your food with health and safety in mind, you can schedule a one-on-one telenutrition visit with one of our expert Registered Dietitians at

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing health care recommendations. Please see a health care provider.