Health and Mind: 9 dangerous food safety mistakes

Published 2:30 pm Thursday, November 16, 2023

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By Cara O’Neill

Clark County Health Department

We all want to keep our families safe and healthy. But sometimes, a simple mistake in how we handle and prepare food can lead to serious sickness. With some germs like salmonella, just a small amount in undercooked food is enough to cause food poisoning. And just a tiny taste of food with botulism toxin can cause paralysis and even death.

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You can protect your family by avoiding these common food safety mistakes.

Mistake #1

Eating risky foods if you are more likely to get food poisoning

Why It’s a Mistake

Anyone can get food poisoning. But some people are more likely to get sick and to have a more serious illness. This includes:

• Adults aged 65 and older

• Children younger than 5 years

• People who have health problems or who take medicines that lower the body’s ability to fight germs and sickness (weakened immune systems)

• Pregnant women


People who are more likely to get food poisoning should not eat the following:

• Undercooked or raw animal products (such as meat, chicken, turkey, eggs, or seafood)

• Raw or lightly cooked sprouts

• Unpasteurized (raw) milk and juices

• Soft cheese (such as queso fresco), unless it is labeled as made with pasteurized milk

• Learn the best ways to protect yourself from food poisoning at home or in restaurants. More information can be found at

Mistake #2

Not washing your hands

Why It’s a Mistake

Germs on your hands can get on food and make it unsafe.


Wash hands the right way—for 20 seconds with soap and running water. Wash hands before, during, and after preparing food, before eating, and after using the toilet or changing a child’s diaper.

Mistake #3

Washing meat, chicken, or turkey

Why It’s a Mistake

Washing raw meat, chicken, turkey, or eggs can spread germs to your sink, countertops, and other surfaces in your kitchen. Those germs can get on other foods, like salads or fruit, and make you sick.


Don’t wash meat, chicken, turkey, or eggs. Cooking them thoroughly will kill harmful germs.

Mistake #4

Peeling fruits and vegetables without washing them first

Why It’s a Mistake

Fruits and vegetables may have germs on their peeling or skin. It’s easy to transfer those germs to the inside of fruits and vegetables when you cut or peel them.


Wash all fruits and vegetables under running water even if you’re going to peel them. Use a clean vegetable brush to scrub firm fruits and vegetables like melons, avocados, and cucumbers.

Mistake #5

Putting cooked meat back on a plate that held raw meat

Why It’s a Mistake

Germs from the raw meat can spread to the cooked meat.


Always use separate plates for raw meat and cooked meat. The same rule applies to chicken, turkey, and seafood.

Mistake #6

Not cooking meat, chicken, turkey, seafood, or eggs thoroughly

Why It’s a Mistake

Cooked food is safe only after it’s been cooked to a high enough temperature to kill germs.


Use a food thermometer to make sure you cook food to a safe internal temperature.

• 145°F for whole cuts of beef, pork, veal, and lamb (then allow the meat to rest for 3 minutes before carving or eating)

• 160°F for ground meats, such as beef and pork

• 165°F for all poultry, including ground chicken and turkey

• 165°F for leftovers and casseroles

• 145°F for fresh ham (raw)

• 145°F for seafood, or cook until flesh is opaque

• Also, if you won’t be serving hot food right away, keep it hot (at 140°F or above) until serving.

Mistake #7

Eating raw batter or dough, including cookie dough, and other foods with uncooked eggs or uncooked flour

Why It’s a Mistake

Flour and uncooked eggs may contain Escherichia coli (E. coli), salmonella, or other harmful bacteria.


Cook or bake flour and eggs thoroughly. Don’t eat foods that contain raw or undercooked eggs, such as runny eggs, or homemade mayonnaise, hollandaise sauce, and eggnog. Don’t eat raw (uncooked) dough or batter that contains either flour or eggs. Keep raw dough away from children, including play dough. Wash hands, work surfaces, and utensils thoroughly after contact with flour and raw dough.

Mistake #8

Tasting or smelling food to see if it’s still good

Why It’s a Mistake

You can’t taste, smell, or see the germs that cause food poisoning. Tasting only a tiny amount can make you very sick.


Check the storage times chart to see how long you can store food safely. When the time is up, throw it out. Chart can be found at

Mistake #9

Thawing or marinating food on the counter

Why It’s a Mistake

• Harmful germs can multiply very quickly at room temperature.


Thaw safely. You can thaw it:

• In the refrigerator,

• In cold water, or

• In the microwave.

• Always marinate food in the refrigerator no matter what kind of marinade you’re using.

Clark County Health Department provides programs for the entire family, including WIC, HANDS, family planning, and immunizations.  For more information on all our services, please call (859)744-4482 or visit our website at  You can also like us on Facebook.