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Keep it Separated: Food Safety Tips You May Have Overlooked

posted Jun 10, 2016, 8:22 AM by

This week, we’re continuing our exploration of the four key food safety principles outlined in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) by discussing the second principle: SEPARATE. The main idea behind this principle is to keep raw foods (especially raw meat, poultry, and seafood) and other foods that may contain harmful microbes separate from ready-to-eat foods like fresh fruits and veggies. This prevents something known as cross-contamination (when microbes that may make you sick are transferred from one food to another). Cross-contamination is especially concerning when germs spread to a food you are planning to eat without cooking it first.

You’re probably already familiar with the separate principle. For example, most people know that you shouldn’t chop fresh produce on a cutting board that you previously used to cut raw seafood, meat, or poultry without cleaning and sanitizing it first. But here are some areas you may have overlooked:

  • Clean reusable grocery bags often. A 2011 study found that bacteria are commonly found in reusable bags, but only 3% of shoppers wash them regularly. Although most of the bacteria found in the bags are unlikely to cause infection according to Dr. Susan Fernyak, Director of San Francisco’s Communicable Disease Control and Prevention Section, it’s still worth washing your reusable bags regularly just to be safe. The 2015 DGAs recommend washing cloth and canvas bags in the washing machine and washing reusable plastic bags in hot, soapy water. It’s also a good idea to put raw seafood, meat, and poultry in plastic bags so they don’t contaminate your other food or your reusable bags. Last, you may consider storing your reusable bags inside between uses rather than in a hot trunk, where bacteria can multiply more easily. 
  • Store raw seafood, meat, and poultry on the bottom shelf of your fridge. Make sure any juices that leak out of the packaging won’t be able to drip onto fruits, veggies, and other ready-to-eat foods. Consider leaving raw seafood, meat, and poultry in the plastic bags you brought them home with so any potential leaks will be contained. 
  • Don’t put cooked burgers back onto the plate you used to bring them to the grill. The 2015 DGAs remind us not to put cooked food back on the same plate or cutting board that previously held raw food. For example, when cooking your world famous burgers, you may bring them to the grill on a platter. Once your burgers are cooked to the appropriate temperature, you should place them on a clean platter. If you want to use the same platter, be sure to wash it with hot, soapy water first. According to, you should also bring two separate sets of utensils to the grill—one for handling raw food and another for removing cooked food from the heat. 
  • Boil leftover marinade if you intend to reuse it. You’ve marinated chicken and are about to throw it on the grill. You realize that the same marinade would be delicious on the veggies you are planning to serve on the side. What do you do? According to the Partnership for Food Safety Education’s Separate Fact Sheet, you should always boil the marinade to destroy harmful bacteria before reusing it. A simpler, safer option is to make a large batch of marinade and set some aside in a separate container before marinating your meat, poultry, or seafood.

Stay tuned for next week, when we’ll discuss how you can stay safe by cooking your food properly and chilling it quickly.