Food Safety for College Students

College students are under a lot of pressure and they often get their meals the quickest and easiest way possible. When it comes to safely preparing meals, many college kids simply don’t know what it takes to make the grade in food safety, and many end up with a foodborne illness.

When students pack up for college, they take along the basics — TV, laptop, MP3 player and cell phone. Many students will also arrive at school with a microwave oven, tabletop grill, mini-fridge, and toaster-oven in tow. Most students, however, don’t know there are food safety considerations when cooking with these appliances.

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College students are under a lot of pressure and they often get their meals the quickest and easiest way possible. When it comes to safely preparing meals, many college kids simply don’t know what it takes to make the grade in food safety, and many end up with a foodborne illness.

Likewise, with tons of social activities going on like football games and late night study sessions, it can be easy to forget about food safety. But, there is nothing worse than missing out on that huge championship game or major exam all because you are sick from foodborne illness.

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The Basic Steps to Food Safety

  • Clean. Wash hands and surfaces often.
  • Separate. Don’t cross-contaminate. Keep raw meat, poultry, eggs and seafood, and their juices, away from ready-to-eat foods.
  • Cook. Raw meat, poultry, seafood and egg products need to be cooked to the right temperature. Use a food thermometer to ensure foods have reached a high enough temperature to kill any harmful bacteria that may be present.
  • Chill. Refrigerate food promptly. Do not leave food at room temperature for more than two hours, or one hour when the outside temperature is above 90°F (32.2°C).
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Food Safety 101

Bacteria that contaminate food and cause foodborne illnesses are everywhere. Follow these basic safety tips to keep you safe.

1. Wash Hands and Surfaces Often

Wash your hands often, especially during these key times when germs can spread.

Keep kitchen surfaces clean by washing counters, cutting boards and equipment with soap and water immediately after use. Sanitize with a chlorine solution of 1 teaspoon liquid household bleach per quart of water, especially after contact with raw meats.

Media Credit: USDA

2. Prevent Cross-Contamination

Use separate cutting boards and plates for produce, meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs:

  • Use one cutting board for fresh produce or other foods that won’t be cooked before they’re eaten, and another for raw meat, poultry, or seafood. Replace them when they are worn.
  • Use separate plates and utensils for cooked and raw foods.
  • Wash thoroughly all plates, utensils, and cutting boards that touched raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs before using them again. Use hot, soapy water.
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3. Reduce Time in the Temperature Danger Zone

The “Danger Zone” for most foods is between 40°F and 140°F. Bacteria grow most rapidly in this range of temperatures, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes.

Two Hour Rule - Food Safety

4. Cook Foods to a Safe Temperature

Using a thermometer is the only reliable way to ensure safety and to determine that meat and egg dishes are cooked thoroughly. These foods must be cooked to an internal temperature high enough to destroy any harmful bacteria that may have been in the food.

Cook to the Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures recommended by the USDA:

CategoryFoodTemperature (°F) Rest Time 
Ground Meat & Meat MixturesBeef, Pork, Veal, Lamb160None
Turkey, Chicken165None
Fresh Beef, Veal, LambSteaks, roasts, chops1453 minutes
PoultryChicken & Turkey, whole165None
Poultry breasts, roasts165None
Poultry thighs, legs, wings165None
Duck & Goose165None
Stuffing (cooked alone or in bird)165None
Pork and HamFresh pork1453 minutes
Fresh ham (raw)1453 minutes
Precooked ham (to reheat)140None
Eggs & Egg DishesEggsCook until yolks and
white are firm
Egg dishes160None
Leftovers & CasserolesLeftovers165None
SeafoodFin Fish145 or cook until flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork.None
Shrimp, lobster, and crabsCook until flesh is pearly and opaque.None
Clams, oysters, and musselsCook until shells open during cooking.None
ScallopsCook until flesh is milky white or opaque and firm.None

Food Storage Safety: Refrigerator & Freezer

The right temperatures slow the growth of dangerous bacteria. Put a refrigerator thermometer in the refrigerator and adjust the refrigerator temperature control, if necessary. Put a second thermometer in the freezer. Your refrigerator should register at 40°F (4°C) or below and your freezer at 0°F (-18°C).

Use ready-to-eat, refrigerated foods within a few days. The longer they’re stored in the refrigerator, the more chance bacteria has to grow.

Note: Foods kept in the freezer longer than recommended are safe, but their quality may not be as good.
Bacon (opened)5-7 daysNot recommended
Bacon (unopened)2 weeks1 month
Beef roasts & steaks, raw3-5 days6-12 months
Cheese – hard types6-12 weeks6-12 months
Cheese spreads3-4 weeksNot recommended
Deli-sliced luncheon meats3-5 days1-2 months
Eggs – fresh in shell3-5 weeksNot recommended
Eggs – hard-cooked1 weekNot recommended
Egg, tuna and macaroni salads3-5 daysSalads made with mayonnaise do not freeze well.
Gravy and meat broth1-2 days2-3 months
Ground beef & stew meat, raw1-2 days3-4 months
Ham slices (fully cooked)3-4 days1-2 months
Hotdogs and luncheon meats (unopened)2 weeks1-2 months
Hotdogs, luncheon meats (opened)3-7 days1-2 months
Ice cream2 months
Meat (cooked)3-4 days2-3 months
Milk (fresh)5-7 daysNot recommended
Pizza3-4 days4-6 months
Pork roasts & chops, raw3-5 days4-6 months
Poultry (cooked)3-4 days4-6 months
Poultry (raw)1-2 days9-12 months
Salad dressings (opened)3 monthsNot recommended
Soup – meat added1-2 days2-3 months
Soup – vegetable3-4 days2-3 months
Yogurt7 daysNot recommended
Fruits (fresh):
Apples3 weeksFruits may need ascorbic acid to prevent browning when frozen, and the addition of sugar for best quality. Store in freezer containers.
Grapefruit, lemons, limes, oranges2 weeks
Melons1 week
Grapes, peaches, pears, plums3-5 days
Berries, cherries2-3 days
Vegetables (fresh):
Carrots2 weeksMost vegetables need to be blanched or cooked before freezing to maintain quality.
Celery, cabbage, chilies, lettuce head (unwashed), peppers, tomatoes1 week
Beans, broccoli, greens, peas, summer squash3-5 days
Mushrooms, okra1-2 days
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