Every year, 38 million people suffer from food poisoning. “When we talk about food poisoning, we’re talking about becoming sick from eating food with bacteria,” said Marianne Gravely, food safety specialist at USDA Food Safety Education Staff, Meat and Poultry Hotline.

Food poisoning is preventable, as long anyone handling food follows best practices during meal preparation and clean up.

Follow four basic steps

There are four basic steps everyone should follow when preparing a meal.

Clean: Always make sure to wash your hands with soap and warm water for twenty seconds before touching food and always use clean utensils and preparation space. “You don’t want to contaminate anything when you are making dinner or making your child’s lunch,” said Gravely.

Separate: Separating is about preventing cross contamination. Don’t using the same plates to carry raw and cooked meats, for example.

Cook: Always use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of meat and poultry and cook it to recommended temperatures. Ground meat should be cooked to at least 160 degrees, poultry to 165 degrees, and fish, steaks and chops to 145 degrees.

Food poisoning is preventable, as long anyone handling food follows best practices during meal preparation and clean up.

Chill: Because bacteria grow when temperatures fall into the danger zone, keep cold and perishable foods chilled. When serving, put them on ice. Otherwise, put them back into the refrigerator. Perishable food shouldn’t sit out for more than two hours.

Make sure lunch is safe 

As children return to school, Gravely wants to remind parents to make sure no one gets food poisoning from an improperly packed lunch. She recommends the following tips to keep food safe.

  • If the lunch contains anything perishable, use two cold sources, like an ice pack and a chilled juice box.

  • Use an insulated lunch bag because a brown bag won’t hold the cold.

  • If you are packing a hot lunch, use an insulated container.

“The only way to know if meat and poultry is safe to eat is by time and temperature,” said Gravely, adding that you can’t simply look at your food and assume it is safe. If you aren’t sure, call the USDA experts who can answer your all of your questions.