Safe Food Handling

How to Safely Prepare and Cook Food

Learning how to practice safe food handling is extremely important! There is a proper method and order to preparing food that you intend to use, eat, or cook later. The first thing we want to think about is cross contamination. As we just learned, cross contamination occurs when bacteria from one food item moves to another. This is especially dangerous when it is bacteria that dies at a higher cooking temperature than what the food will be prepared at.

So with this in mind, we will apply the cross-contamination knowledge to how we prepare food. Whenever you are making a dish, for ease and convenience, it is always best to prepare the items you intend to cook ahead of time. Then, place them in sealed storage containers for later use. If you find you are running out of time to make meals, you can always pre-slice or pre-cut up any vegetables you will need throughout the week and store them in the refrigerator for later use.

We had some days that were busy with treatments and doctor visits. And, we had some days where there would be nothing going on. So, I would keep my refrigerator stocked with ready-to-use food items. Some vegetables can also be frozen very easily. Simply slice them up, put them in freezer safe bags, and freeze them. This is especially helpful if you are not consuming your fresh food products as fast as they are going bad.

Feel free to experiment and find veggies that work well for you. If you do freeze them, you do have to cook them. Frozen vegetables lose their structure and become incredibly soft after being frozen. This shouldn’t be too much of an issue though. It is generally recommended that people with compromised immune systems only eat fully cooked foods. With all these things in mind, let’s talk about the proper order to prepare, or prep, for a meal.

We want to prepare all of our food items in this order:

Safe Food Handling -Food Preparation Chart

Order Of Preparation When Cooking Item To Be Prepared
first fruits and vegetables
second ready to eat items or items that will be eaten raw
third dairy
fourth seafood
fifth red meats and pork
last poultry

Fruits and Vegetables

The proper way to prepare fruits and vegetables is as follows: You want to first thoroughly wash any contaminants away, like dirt, to ensure that no contaminants are present during ingestion. We do not want to remove the skins of thinly skinned foods. The skins contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and extra fiber. Slice to desired size. Next, we will place the vegetables in sealed containers for storage.

Ready-To-Eat Foods

Ready-to-eat foods are very simple. But, there are few things you need to make sure you take care of to avoid cross-contamination. First, keep ready-to-eat foods in their own container and away from any raw meats. The next thing we need to think about is reheating temperature. This is incredibly important for ready-to-eat foods. If it’s yogurt and it’s supposed to be cold, it always needs to be under 40°F. If the ready-to-eat food is supposed to be served hot, it needs to be brought to 145°F before serving. This will kill any bacteria that may have formed in the food since its packaging.


Dairy items are usually ready to eat in the condition that they are in. But, we need to make sure that they are always stored at 40°F or lower until it is time to consume them. We also need to be careful because dairy products like yogurt and cheese contain active bacteria cultures. This is what gives them their unique and special flavors. We just need to make sure that this friendly bacteria doesn’t turn into harmful bacteria. We do this by properly storing and keeping dairy items separate from other items.


We want to keep all meat separate from each other, as well as from all of the other food groups. At the very least, they all contain some level of bacteria on their surface. The exceptions to this are ground meats and chicken. Those meats have a uniform bacterial disbursement throughout their structure. The reason for this has to do with the specific nature of the processing of those foods in the United States. I can’t speak to how other countries process their meat, but this is something that needs to be taken into consideration.

To prepare meats ahead of time, we can cut, season, or prepare these items up to three days in advance if it is going to sit in the refrigerator at 40°F or lower. Or, it can sit in the freezer for an indefinite amount of time. This is assuming they are packaged properly to prevent freezer burn.

If we do prepare our meats ahead of time, we want to make sure they are in their own containers or storage bags that are properly sealed and labeled. If preparing several different meats at once, take care to clean your cutting board, knives, and surfaces in between each task. And, remember to always cut items in the above order to help avoid unnecessary cross-contamination.

How to Properly Cook Food

Remember that when you cook meats for cancer patients that are going through treatment, the meat needs to be well-done. This is to make certain that any bacteria are dead as a doornail! Well-done temperatures will vary per meat category. Here is a Cooking Temperatures Chart to help you know when your meat is fully cooked.

Safe Food Handling –Cooking Temperatures Chart

Meat Item Cook To Temperature
chicken, turkey, and poultry 165°F
beef, pork, veal, and lamb 155°F
fish, shrimp, other seafood, and veggies 145°F

You need to hold these temperatures for at least 30 seconds to make sure everything is nice and safe to eat. You can find the temperature of a food item with a handy-dandy kitchen thermometer. If you don’t have one, I highly recommend that you purchase one!

The temperatures listed above are the prescribed temperatures as recommended by the USDA. These temperatures are almost always in constant flux by a few degrees. So, double check with the USDA website to make sure that these are still the current correct well-done temperatures.

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