How to Avoid Food-Prep Mistakes


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The first step is to make sure you have the right tools. Here are the essentials:


Put an appliance thermometer in your fridge and freezer to make sure they’re running at the right temp, and get a meat thermometer to ensure that food is cooked enough to kill disease causing salmonella and e. coli and other potentially lethal bugs. (See temperature chart below.) We tested 11 meat thermometers; the top instant-read model was the taylor Weekend Warrior 806, $16. If you want one that will beep when, say, a roast reaches the right temp, the polder thm-360, $30, is the most accurate leave-in model we tested.

Cutting boards

Use different ones for produce, meat and poultry, and seafood to prevent cross-contamination. Solid-wood cutting boards are as safe to use as plastic ones. But toss worn or cracked ones; bugs can hide out in the crannies.

Ice packs

They can be tossed in a cooler or reusable bags to keep food cool during transport. Foods that need to be kept cold while you serve them should be served on ice. Those include foods that contain eggs, such as mayo.

Hydrogen peroxide and vinegar

Keep cutting boards, knives, and countertops sanitized by spraying them with vinegar, then with 3 percent hydrogen peroxide after you’ve washed them with hot, soapy water. Keep the liquids in separate spray bottles, and use them one at a time. Wipe your kitchen tools with a clean towel after each spritz.

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Take your food’s temperature

When you’re cooking meat, place thermometers in the thickest part without touching bone, fat, or gristle. If you’re heating premade foods such as frozen dinners, follow package instructions exactly, including the time food is supposed to rest, and be sure it reaches
165° F.

Cooking Times

  • Eggs: Cook until yolk and whites are firm.
  • Egg dishes, sauces, and custards: 160° F
  • Ground turkey and chicken: 165° F
  • Ground beef, lamb, pork, veal: 160° F
  • Fresh beef, lamb,and veal: 145° F
  • Fresh pork: 160° F
  • Ham: 160° F (fresh, raw); 140° F (fully cooked,to reheat)
  • Leftovers: 165° F
  • Poultry: 165° F
  • Stuffing (cooked alone or in bird): 165° F
  • Sauces, soups, gravies and marinades (used with raw meats, poultry, or fish): Boiling point
  • Finfish: Cook until they’re opaque and they flake easily with a fork.
  • Shrimp, lobster and crab: Cook until they turn red and flesh becomes opaque.
  • Scallops: Cook until they turn milky white, opaque and firm.
  • Shellfish: Cook until the shells open.

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