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Will Cooking Food Kill Bacteria? (We Ask the Experts)

Will Cooking Food Kill Bacteria? (We Ask the Experts)

Food poisoning is unpleasant in all regards, with or without food. It can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach ache. When experts performed tests on foodstuffs in the United States, there was a discovery that foodborne illness is often caused by "undercooked, poorly handled and cross-contaminated food."

Cooking food will kill bacteria for the most part, but it may not destroy all the bacteria present. In order to mitigate any risks, ensure you are cooking your food to the correct temperature, and keep your hands and kitchen equipment clean.

Cooking your food to high temperatures for enough time will ensure that the risks of foodborne illnesses are reduced. In this article I will discuss how to kill bacteria in food, the temperatures you need to cook food, dealing with leftovers, and how to safely cook without worrying about cross contamination.

Will Cooking Food Kill Bacteria?

Bacteria in food causes illness rather than some defect in processing or packaging. Many different types of bacteria can cause spoilage, so how do you know if your foods are safe? Are high temperatures enough to kill bacteria?

Cooking food will kill some bacteria, but it won’t destroy all of it. Many bacteria have an adaptable cell wall that can become resistant to a particular attack mode. This means that if you apply heat or a chemical to kill bacteria more than once, you're going to get less benefit from it each time. 

So what does this mean? Well, for one thing, this means that your oven or microwave isn't going to make your chicken any safer than if you left it on the counter. The idea that cooking meat thoroughly kills all the germs and makes them safe is incorrect. It only does so if the meat has been handled correctly before cooking and hasn’t been left at room temperature for too long.

If you want to make your food safe, you want to reduce the number of bacteria as much as possible before cooking. You should properly sanitize your hands before preparing food, especially meat, as in the video below: 

Be very careful when handling raw meat — don't let the juices drip onto anything else in your kitchen! Washing your cutting boards immediately after use with hot soapy water also helps. Additionally, ensure that you keep meat and vegetables separate to prevent cross-contamination.

What Temperature Kills Bacteria in Food?

The easiest way to prevent foodborne illness is to cook your food correctly. That means cooking it at the right temperature for long enough to kill any bacteria present in it. But, unfortunately, that's easier said than done.

Most bacteria like warm, moist conditions, making it common for meats and seafood to be contaminated. So it makes sense that if you want to kill those bacteria, you should heat the heart until it's scorching or, even better, go beyond hot and reach boiling temperature.

140 degrees F (60 degrees C) kills bacteria in food. However, there are many factors that influence how fast bacteria grow and how resistant it is, including the type of bacteria, preparation and cooking methods, and the length of time between when the food is prepared and when it is cooked.

For these reasons, cooking times can vary tremendously from one piece of meat or fish to another. Some foods might contain bacteria that aren't killed by even boiling temperatures, and others might need to be cooked for a long time before they're safe.

The timing between cooking fresh and frozen meat and poultry can vary drastically. According to the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, you should cook ground poultry to 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius). It would help if you also cooked whole chicken breasts to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius) as measured by a food thermometer.

How Long Does It Take To Kill Bacteria in Food?

It takes at least two minutes to kill bacteria in food as long as the temperature is constant at above 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius). 

The USDA advises that you use a thermometer with a digital display that is easy to read, preferably one with a probe attached to a lead outside the oven or grill to check the temperature without opening the oven or grill door.

How Long Should You Take To Prepare Food To Kill Microbes?

Cooking food kills the microbes, parasites, and viruses that cause foodborne illnesses. However, even properly cooked foods can make you sick if they do not handle, store and reheat them adequately, taking into consideration expiration dates.

You should try to be as fast as possible when preparing food to kill microbes. Food bacteria can proliferate in low temperatures, and double every 20 minutes at room temperature, so it doesn't take long for them to multiply to dangerous levels.

Foodborne bacteria can grow on almost any food that has protein in it. Meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products, eggs, and beans are all types of protein food. Foods with a lot of protein include meatloaf and meat patties like hamburgers. Even some vegetables and fruits have a small amount of protein.

Bacteria can also grow in your refrigerator. That's why you should keep your refrigerator at 40 degrees F (4 degrees C) or below. Additionally, always follow the "two-hour rule": Discard any perishable food left out at room temperature for more than two hours (one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees F or 32 degrees C).

How Do I Know I Killed the Bacteria in My Food?

You know that you killed the bacteria in your food when you have either cooked it to a high temperature (like 165°F or 74°C) or it has been cooking consistently at a high temperature for at least a few minutes. Always double check that your food is properly cooked before consuming.

The USDA recommends cooking most meats to an internal temperature of 145°F (32°C), but that's a bare minimum. 

For food safety, you should cook meat and poultry to 165°F (74°C) for ground beef, 165-170°F (74-77°C) for whole cuts of beef and pork (a little lower if the part is lean), and 165-175°F (74-79°C) for chicken parts again, depending on how much fat is present.

What Should You Do With Leftovers?

When it comes to leftover food, there are two schools of thought. One school says you should avoid leftovers because they are a magnet for bacteria. The other school says that you should eat them as soon as possible because they are a magnet for bacteria.

You should properly store leftovers in a sealed container in the refrigerator. leftovers can be hazardous and make you sick if you don't handle them properly. You need to take precautions when handling and storing leftovers, such as keeping them refrigerated or frozen after you cook them.

The most important thing is to remember: leftovers are not safe until you have reheated them sufficiently. Allowing food to sit out on countertops also allows bacteria to grow more quickly than refrigerated or frozen. 

If you're going to use leftover food right away, put it on plates and cover them with plastic wrap or aluminum foil before placing it in the fridge or freezer until needed later in the day. You can shop for some of these materials, like the Reynolds Wrap Aluminum Foil on Amazon, which helps to keep the flavor in your leftovers, or your local grocery store.

How To Avoid Cooking Your Food Wrong

Food safety is an important topic to know and be aware of. Foodborne illnesses are a common yet preventable public health problem. In the United States, 48 million people get sick from foodborne illnesses such as Norovirus, Salmonella, and E. coli every year.

Since these are ultimately preventable, handling your food carefully and in the correct way can mitigate the risk of food poisoning. 

Here Are Some Tips on Preventing Food Poisoning:

  • Keep raw meat, fish, and poultry away from ready-to-eat foods. Store them in the fridge until you are ready to cook them. Make sure that these products are tightly sealed in a container or bag to keep any juices from contaminating the inside of your fridge.
  • Put the bowl or container in the fridge instead of the countertop or near other foods when marinating food.Always make sure the bowl is covered when you put it in the fridge. Additionally, when you throw out the marinade, please do not use it for basting or dipping unless you boil it for at least one minute.

What Is a Food Safety Risk?

A food safety risk isa lack of temperature control resulting in bacteria or pesticide residues beyond legal limits. Food safety hazards can cause harm, injury, or death. It is important to note that this specific definition applies only where food safety is concerned. 

For example, a raw chicken breast with no control over temperature is highly likely to become contaminated by harmful bacteria such as Salmonella, leading to illness or even death.

Food safety risks are a significant concern for those working in food preparation, dining, or delivery. There are plenty of regulations in place to protect people from food poisoning in public spaces, so you will need to follow a strict system when you are cooking your own food at home.

How To Prevent Bacteria in Food Before Cooking?

Most of the time, bacteria will grow at a rate that's noticeable to you. But if the growth is slow enough, it can produce toxins that cause foodborne illnesses before you even notice there's a problem. 

You may not know that bacteria is rapidly multiplying, since mold will usually only start to form after a certain amount of time. However, keeping in mind that this can happen will keep you from eating food that has been contaminated.

To prevent bacteria in food before cooking, always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after handling raw meat, poultry, or egg products. This will help to prevent cross-contamination.

If you want to take extra precautions to prevent bacteria multiplying before you have a chance to start cooking, you should wash your hands every 10-15 minutes, and never use the same chopping boards for meat and vegetable products. Keeping your chopping board squeaky clean is essential.

When removing cooked meat from the grill or stovetop, always use a clean plate to avoid exposing cooked foods to raw meats.

  • Keep your kitchen clean. Wash all surfaces, utensils, and equipment that come in contact with raw meat, poultry, and eggs thoroughly with hot, soapy water before moving on to another task.
  • Make sure you cook food to the right temperature. Use a food thermometer to ensure meat, poultry, and eggs get cooked to the USDA recommended minimum internal temperatures.
  • Never use the same chopping board or plate for raw meat and vegetables.Always use a separate chopping board for each food group, since this will help to mitigate the risk of food poisoning.
  • Never leave perishable foods out at room temperature for more than 2 hours. If you do this by accident, you will need to throw out the food rather than storing it in the fridge. 
  • When handling raw meat and poultry, you can use latex gloves.This helps to reduce the risk of cross contamination, as long as you immediately throw the gloves away before handling anything else in your kitchen. 


Ultimately, the best way to protect yourself from eating food contaminated with bacteria is to be aware of the risks and act accordingly. Meat, poultry, and dairy products can be more easily contaminated than other types of food, so ensure that you have a system in place to prepare these.

In addition, always handle food properly and keep things like countertops and cutting boards clean and sanitized. If you're concerned about your risk as an individual, particularly if you're in a group at high risk such as older people, or if you have a young child, talk to a doctor or dietitian to learn more.

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