September is National Food Safety Education Month. Food safety refers to the practices in which we prepare, handle and store our food that can help prevent a foodborne illness or food poisoning.

Every year, 1 in 6 Americans get sick from eating contaminated foods. Anyone can be affected from food poisoning, but some individuals are more at risk of getting sick if food is not handled properly. This includes people with a weakened immune system, such as individuals undergoing cancer treatment, those that have certain illnesses or are taking certain medications, children under the age of 5, adults 65 and older and pregnant women.

There are several important things that you can do to protect yourself and your family when handling food. Remember these four important steps: clean, separate, cook and chill.

Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often.

Separate: Avoid cross contamination.

Cook: Cook foods to a proper temperature.

Chill: Refrigerate and store promptly.

Clean. Did you know that germs that cause food poisoning can survive in many places including your hands and kitchen surfaces? It’s important to wash your hands, utensils and surfaces often when cooking.

Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water before, during and after food prep and before eating. Scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.

Wash your utensils, cutting boards and countertops with hot, soapy water.

Wash and scrub dirt off vegetables and fruit before peeling, as germs can spread from the outside skin to the inside flesh of produce as you cut or peel them.

Do not wash raw meat, poultry or eggs, as washing these foods can actually spread germs as juices may splash onto your sink or counter tops.

Separate. Don’t cross contaminate. Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs that can spread germs separated from fresh produce and cooked foods.

When grocery shopping, be sure juices from raw meat, poultry and seafood do not leak onto other foods in your shopping cart. Many grocery stores have bags that you can place these items in to help contain juices and leaks.

Use separate cutting boards, knives and plates for raw meat, poultry and seafood.

Store raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs separately from other foods in the refrigerator.

Cook. Be sure that food is cooked to a safe internal temperature that will kill germs that can make you sick. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of foods:

Chill. Refrigerate foods properly.Be sure to keep your refrigerator at 40 degrees or below.Refrigerate perishable food within two hours.

If the outdoor temperature is above 90 degrees during the summer, refrigerate food within 1 hour.

Thaw frozen food safely in the refrigerator, in cold ice water or in the microwave. Never thaw or marinate foods on the counter.

By following these guidelines when cleaning, separating, cooking and chilling your foods, you can protect yourself and loved ones from foodborne illnesses and food poisoning.

Source: American Institute for Cancer Research

Julie Buck, EdD, RDN, is a registered dietitian, who is employed as a family and consumer sciences educator at the University of Idaho Extension, Bingham County. She can be reached at jhbuck@uidaho.edu.