Handling food safely
When you prepare food for yourself and your family, use these tips to help ensure that it's safe to eat.
How should you clean food?
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food.
- Wash all fruits and vegetables. Use a scrub brush. If you can’t get the skin clean, peel it off. This can help remove dirt and chemicals, like pesticides. A pesticide is a chemical used to keep bugs and other pests away from crops. Wash all fruits and vegetables, even if the package says it’s already been washed. Dry everything with a paper towel or clean cloth.
- Remove and throw away the outer leaves of leafy green vegetables, like lettuce and spinach.
- Cut away damaged sections of fruits and vegetables.
- Wash utensils and cutting boards with hot soapy water after each use. Don’t use cutting boards made of wood. They can hold more germs than other kinds of cutting boards.
- After preparing food, clean countertops with hot soapy water.
How should you separate food?
- Use one cutting board for raw meat, poultry and seafood. Use a different board for fruits and vegetables.
- When you’re shopping, keep raw meat, poultry and seafood and their juices separate from other foods.
- Store raw meat, poultry and seafood in containers so that their juices don’t get on other foods.
How should you cook food?
- Use a food thermometer. It can help you cook food—especially meat—to a safe temperature. You may not be able to tell if a food is fully cooked by how it looks, so use these temperature guidelines:
You can buy a thermometer at the grocery store or at home-supply stores where cooking products are sold.
- When using the microwave, cover the food. Stop cooking to stir the food and rotate the dish to ensure the food’s warm all the way through.
- When reheating sauces, soups and gravies, bring them to a rolling boil.
How should you chill food?
- Keep the refrigerator at 40 F or below and the freezer at 0 F or below. If you don’t think your temperature is correct, use an appliance thermometer to check it. You can buy this kind of thermometer at hardware or home-supply stores.
- Refrigerate all fruits and vegetables that have been cut or peeled.
- Refrigerate all leftovers within 2 hours after eating. Use shallow containers so that the food cools quickly. When you’re ready to use the leftovers, eat them within 2 hours of taking them out of the refrigerator.
- Thaw meat, poultry and seafood in the refrigerator, not on the counter or in the sink.
- Don't crowd the refrigerator. This may make it hard to keep food cool and safe.
Last reviewed August 2012
See also: Foods to avoid or limit during pregnancy, Eating health during pregnancy
Most common questions
How much weight should I gain during my pregnancy?
The exact amount of weight you need to gain depends on how much you weigh before pregnancy and your Body Mass Index (BMI). Below are some guidelines, but talk to your health provider about your specific pregnancy weight gain goals.
If you began pregnancy at a healthy weight, you should gain 25 to 35 pounds over the 9 months. If you gain between 1 and about 4 ½ pounds in the first trimester, you should put on about 1 pound every week in the second and third trimesters.
If you began pregnancy underweight, you should probably gain about 28 to 40 pounds. If you gain between 1 and about 4 ½ pounds in the first trimester, try to gain slightly over a pound a week in the second and third trimesters.
If you began pregnancy overweight, you should gain only 15 to 25 pounds over the 9 months. If you gain between 1 and about 4 ½ pounds in the first trimester, you should put on slightly over ½ pound every week in the second and third trimesters. While you don't want to gain too much weight, never try to lose weight during pregnancy because that could harm your baby.
If you were obese (with a BMI over 30) at the start of your pregnancy, you should gain only 11 to 20 pounds over the 9 months. If you gain between 1 and about 4 ½ pounds in the first trimester, aim for gaining slightly under ½ pound every week in the second and third trimesters.
Is it safe to eat cold cuts when I'm pregnant?
It's not safe for pregnant women to eat deli meats (such as ham, turkey, salami and bologna) or hot dogs unless the food has been thoroughly heated and is steaming hot. These foods can cause a form of food poisoning called listeriosis and is caused by bacteria. Heating deli meats until steaming hot will kill the bacteria if it's present.
Listeriosis is especially dangerous during pregnancy. Most people don't get sick when they eat food contaminated with listeria. But healthy pregnant women are more likely than other healthy adults to get listeriosis and are more likely to become dangerously ill from it.
The flu-like symptoms of listeriosis can sometimes advance to potentially life-threatening meningitis (infection of the membranes covering the brain, with symptoms such as severe headache and stiff neck) and blood infection. Contact your health care provider if you're pregnant and you develop any of these symptoms.
Is it safe to eat fish raw or seared during pregnancy?
You should avoid all raw or seared fish when you're pregnant. (Seared fish are typically not fully cooked throughout.) Raw fish, including sushi and sashimi, and undercooked finfish and shellfish (including oysters, clams, mussels and scallops) are more likely to contain parasites or bacteria than cooked fish.
Avoid swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tile fish, even when cooked. These fish have more mercury than other fish. Mercury can be transferred to your growing baby and cause serious health problems. Stay away from game fish, too, until you check its safety with your local health department. A game fish is any fish caught for sport, such as trout and bass.
The USDA recommends that pregnant women limit their fish consumption to 12 ounces of a variety of cooked fish per week.