What a food-safe recipe looks like

Inserting food-safe steps into a recipe can increase the likelihood that individuals follow critical steps like washing hands and taking food temperatures.

Closeup of a person's hands lathered up as they are washing them.

Improper handwashing, cross-contamination, inadequate cooking of meat and poor cleaning and sanitizing practices are all aspects of food preparation that can increase the risk for foodborne illness. When following a recipe, there are many points in the recipe where any of these risks could occur. Studies have shown that if a recipe includes steps such as washing hands, washing produce, and proper cooking temperatures, people are more likely to adhere to these critical practices. An observational study cited in the Journal of Food Protection resulted in improved food handling behaviors when food-safe steps were inserted into the recipe when compared to recipes without these steps.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) funded an observational study to evaluate the behaviors of handwashing and monitoring food temperatures during meal preparation.  The results revealed that only about one third of people attempt to wash their hands, and yet only 1-2% of participants washed hands properly. The proper steps are defined by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in five steps:

  1. Wet hands.
  2. Lather hands with soap.
  3. Scrub for 20 seconds.
  4. Rinse hands.
  5. Dry hands using a clean towel or air dry.

According to the CDC,  washing your hands is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of disease and can:

  • Decrease the number of people who get diarrhea by 23-40%.
  • Lower the number of schoolchildren who miss school due to gastrointestinal illness by 29-57%.
  • Contribute to 58% less illness from diarrhea in people with weakened immune systems.
  • Decrease the number of colds or other respiratory illnesses by 16-21%.

The Partnership for Food Safety Education, a leading organization for food safety education, has launched a Safe Recipe Guide to bring standards to recipes. The guide includes approved wording to include in recipes addressing cooking temperatures, handwashing, cross contamination and washing produce, as well as some other considerations. The following recipe shows what incorporating these simple steps into a recipe looks like (the added safe steps are underlined):

Grilled Basil Chicken

Servings: 4


¾ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup tightly packed fresh basil leaves, gently rub produce under cold running water
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
½ teaspoons salt
4 plum tomatoes, scrubbed with a clean vegetable brush under running water
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (4 ounces each)


Wash hands with soap and water. After washing basil and tomatoes, blot them dry with clean paper towels. Using a clean cutting board, cut tomatoes into quarters. For marinade, place first six ingredients in a blender. Cover and process until well blended. Place chicken breasts in a shallow dish. Do not rinse raw poultry. Cover with marinade. Cover dish, refrigerate about 1 hour, turning occasionally. Wash all dishes and utensils that touch raw poultry after use. Wash hands with soap and water after handling uncooked chicken. Place chicken on an oiled grill rack over medium heat. Do not reuse marinades used on raw foods. Grill chicken 4-6 minutes per side. Cook until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit as measured with a food thermometer.

Using these food safety instructions in any recipe is important, but for recipes that are going to reach large numbers of people, such as those shared on social media, blogs, websites or published in newspapers, magazines, cookbooks and other materials, food safety instructions can have a major impact on increasing food safety behaviors.

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