Photo by Jeffrey S. Otto/Farm Flavor Media

1. Why do we need to keep eggs refrigerated in the U.S.?

Before eggs are sold in the U.S., they go through a sterilization process during which they are washed in hot, soapy water and sprayed with a disinfectant, killing any bacteria that might be on the shell. This process may also remove the cuticle of the egg, which is a thin layer on the eggshell helps protect it. If the cuticle is removed, any bacteria encountering the egg after sterilization will more easily be able to penetrate the shell and contaminate the egg’s contents. Although refrigeration does not kill bacteria, it reduces the likelihood of you becoming sick by keeping the number of bacteria limited. Refrigeration also makes it more difficult for bacteria to penetrate the eggshell.

2. How long can milk be kept outside the refrigerator before it’s dangerous to drink?

According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, refrigerated foods, including milk, should never be out of the refrigerator at room temperature for longer than two hours.

3. What do expiration or “use by” dates mean, and how important are they?

A “Best if Used By/Before” date indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality and is not a purchase or safety date. A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management and is not a safety date. A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality, which is not a safety date except for when used on infant formula.

4. What is evaluated for a restaurant score?

Local laws regulate how often restaurant inspections take place and what specific items the inspectors look for, but, in general, environmental health inspectors check that safeguards are in place to protect food from contamination by food handlers, cross- contamination (the transfer of harmful bacteria to food from other foods) and contamination from other sources in the restaurant. Some examples include ensuring employees regularly wash their hands in a sink with soap, hot water and paper towels; utensils and surfaces that come in contact with raw meat are not used to prepare ready-to-eat foods; and that rodents and other pests are not present.

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5. At what temperature should meats be before they’re consumed, and what is the best and most reliable way to determine their temperature?

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration recommends using a food thermometer to determine temperature of meats. Beef, pork and veal, along with lamb roasts, steaks and chops should be cooked to at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Ground beef, veal, lamb and pork should be cooked to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit, while all poultry should be cooked to a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

6. How cold should I keep my refrigerator?

To ensure that your refrigerator is doing its job, it’s important to keep its temperature at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder; the freezer should be at 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

7. Is it safe to defrost meat on the kitchen counter?

No. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, perishable foods should never be thawed on the counter (or in hot water) and must not be left at room temperature for more than two hours. When thawing frozen food, it’s best to thaw in the refrigerator where it will remain at a safe, constant temperature.

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8. How do I prevent cross-contamination when using a cutting board?

When preparing food, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends washing cutting boards, dishes and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next item. In addition, the individual preparing the food should wash his or her hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before and after handling food, and after using the bathroom, changing diapers or handling pets.

9. How long is it safe to keep meat or poultry products in the freezer?

Raw poultry can be kept in the freezer for up to a year, while cooked poultry should be frozen for no longer than six months. Red meat can be frozen for four to 12 months when raw, but once cooked, these meats can be safely frozen for a maximum of six months. Ground meats are safe in the freezer for three to four months, while both bacon and sausage should be frozen for no longer than a month.

10. Is it safe to eat moldy cheese or salami if I cut away the mold? What about fruit, jelly or bread?

When visible mold is present, its tentacles (called “threads”) have likely penetrated deep into your food, contaminating even those parts that look mold-free. In most cases, the best course of action is to discard food once it contains mold. However, you can make an exception for hard block cheeses like Parmesan, cheddar or Swiss by cutting away an inch of cheese all the way around the moldy spot.

Sources: healthline.com, fda.gov, fsis.usda.gov, foodsafetynews.com, rd.com, time.com 

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