Here are 10 important food sanitation do's and don'ts, compiled from information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture:
--Wash hands and utensils thoroughly before preparing food.
--Don't leave food out for more than two hours.
--Keep food hot (over 140 degrees) or cold (under 40 degrees).
--Avoid cross-contamination by keeping raw food away from cooked food. For example, don't use a fork to turn raw or partially cooked chicken and then use the same fork on vegetables or other food.
--Don't use any canned goods showing danger signs such as bulges.
--Thaw foods in the refrigerator overnight; do not use the kitchen counter for thawing, since bacteria can multiply rapidly at room temperature. For fast thawing, put the frozen package in a watertight plastic bag under cold water, changing the water frequently.
--Most food-poisoning bacteria are tasteless, colorless and odorless, so never taste foods that you think might be unsafe. "When in doubt, throw it out" is still the best rule of thumb.
--Divide bulk-cooked foods into smaller portions before serving or cooling and storing.
--Refrigerate a lunch prepared the night before. If you can't refrigerate it at school or work the next day, put something cold in the bag with it (a cold drink, small plastic refrigerator dish with ice or one of the new commercial freezing gels). Or freeze the sandwich, holding the lettuce, mayonnaise and tomato, since they don't freeze well.
--Don't drink untreated water or unpasteurized milk. Realize that there are risks associated with consuming raw fish, shellfish and undercooked meats and poultry.
Toll-Free Hot Line
For more information, call the USDA's toll-free Meat and Poultry Hot Line at 800-535-4555.
Also send for copies of USDA's "Safe Food Book," "Safe Food to Go--a Guide to Packing Lunches, Picnicking & Camping Out" or "Talking about Turkey." Write to the Consumer Information Center, Pueblo, Colo. 81009.
The Food Marketing Institute publishes a pamphlet, entitled "The Food Keeper," that includes a chart on refrigerator, pantry and freezer storage times for more than 100 food categories. For a copy, send 25 cents and a legal-sized, self-addressed, stamped envelope to Food Keeper, Food Marketing Institute, 1750 K St. NW, Washington D.C. 20006.