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If you think food safety means washing veggies before cooking or throwing away anything that’s been refrigerated for over 5 days, then you’re in for a surprise. Food safety requires knowledge, special utensils and extra carefulness. But most of all, you need to know what mistakes to avoid, so you can keep your food and yourself as healthy as possible.
Here’s a list of 12 common mistakes people make without thinking of the consequences. I hope they’ll help you protect your family better and make the most of the food you eat.
#1: You taste food to see if it’s spoiled
If the food is so spoiled that you can smell it and taste it, it’s way past the time you should have thrown it away. Besides the fact that it’ll leave you with a bad taste in your mouth that you won’t forget any time soon, it’s also a sure way of getting dangerous bacteria in your body. This can lead to nausea, diarrhea and stomach pains.
On the other hand, the bacteria that cause food poisoning get in your food before the food starts to smell or taste badly. The safest way to avoid eating spoiled food is to throw it away before any harmful bacteria grows. You can use this Safe Storage Times chart to guide you.
#2: You wash meat, poultry or eggs
I know it sounds counterintuitive, but it’s better not to wash raw meat, poultry or eggs before cooking, for two reasons:
1. Rinsing won’t kill bacteria that give you food borne diseases.
2. Water will spread the bacteria all over your sink (and other dishes, if there are any in the sink), your countertops and other surfaces in the kitchen.
So omitting to wash meat & co. before cooking doesn’t mean you’ve missed a few hygiene classes, it means you’re spearing time and health.
#3: You dry dishes with moist towels
Wet or moist towels are a source of harmful bacteria. Using them on dishes only spreads the potential health hazards, so try to air-dry your dishes, even if it takes longer. Also, try not to wipe your hands with them either.
As a general rule, towels should not be used for more than two days and they should be dried as soon as they get wet.
#4: You forget to replace the dish sponge with a new one
Dish sponges are often the dirtiest pieces in a kitchen. They often live next to the sink, the germiest place in the kitchen, and hold onto those germs and dirt creating a real health hazard. Sponges need to be sanitized at last every other day, and replaced every week or two for best protection against germs. Here is an easy way to sanitize your sponge and give it the longest life possible.
Yes, we’ve all been there. You keep saying you’ll replace the dish sponge with a fresh one, but you keep forgetting that. Or you forget to buy new ones. Either way, the sponge keeps getting filled with dangerous bacteria that you spread all over your dishes. In fact, they’re the prefect “host” for bacteria, because of the moist environment that helps bacteria grow.
Sponges should be sanitized at least twice a week and here’s the easiest way to do it, via www.howtocleanstuff.net:
1. Begin by adding a few drops of anti-bacterial dish detergent to the hot water.
2. Wash the sponge thoroughly by working the water through the sponge. This can be accomplished by squeezing the water through continually along with agitating it in the water.
3. Rinse thoroughly with clean water.
4. You can place your sponge in a bleach solution (1 tablespoon of bleach with 1 gallon of water) as well. This step is optional as the next step will also sanitize the sponge.
5. Place the WET sponge in the microwave. You can place it in a dish of water, but it may not necessary.
6. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Monitor it carefully to watch for any signs of burning. If it appears to be burning the sponge, turn the microwave off immediately.
7. When it is finished sterilizing in the microwave, let it set for a few minutes to cool off. It will be HOT!
8. Remove it with a pair of tongs or oven mitts to protect your hands from burning.
9. It is recommended that even with sterilizing, you should only use your sponge for a week or two before replacing.
#5: You bag your meat and seafood with other groceries
You have to be very careful about how you transport and store foods. Meat and seafood can leak juices over other groceries, contaminating them. To avoid this, use separate plastic bags and transport the packages on the backseat of your car, instead of the trunk. This way, you minimize the chance of “accidents” happening.
#6: You don’t use a thermometer when cooking meat
If your hamburger “looks” cooked, it doesn’t necessarily mean it actually is. It may look delicious, but it can very well hide a ton of nasty bacteria. So if you don’t have a thermometer yet, better get one and make sure you don’t eat any meat cooked under 160F.
#7: You buy food from supermarket without checking how it’s stored
Yesterday, I bought some pork fillet and, when I got home and opened the package, I instantly felt the smell of spoiled food. According to the label, it was supposed to go bad on Friday. However, something was clearly wrong with it and I’m guessing it was either transport or storage that was faulty.
So before you buy any meat products, poultry or seafood, take a look around the store. See how the employees handle the merchandise. Check if the most vulnerable foods are immersed in ice (see fresh fish and fish products, vegetable salads). Snoop around a little bit, just to make sure everything goes by the book.
#8: You assume “prewashed” fruits and veggies are same for eating without extra washing
You may never know if the hands handling your food were clean. You can’t watch the whole process the fruits have gone through before landing on the shelf, so it’s best to wash them thoroughly before eating or cooking them.
#9: You don’t wash cutting boards between uses
Ideally, you should have two cutting boards: one for meat, poultry and seafood and one for fruits, vegetables and salads. This way, you avoid spreading bacteria on all your foods and utensils. When you’re done cutting, wash cutting boards with hot, soapy water and let them air dry.
#10: You cook when you’re sick
This is a very dangerous mistake, however many people make it. Even if it’s just a cold, the virus can spread quickly and cause foodborne illnesses.
If you don’t have a choice and you must cook even when you’re sick, put gloves on your hands and keep them all throughout the process, don’t breathe on the food, use only paper towels and don’t touch your nose or mouth.
#11: You’re not careful about potentially hazardous food
Meats, poultry, fish and seafood, baked or boiled potatoes, eggs, dairy products, rice and pasta are perfect “homes” for bacteria. You have no idea just how much bacteria can grow in just one hour when food is left out in the open, so make sure you refrigerate these foods or at least keep them below 40F at all times.
#12: You let food cool before putting it in the fridge
That’s one of the most common mistakes, perhaps you’ve made it too. But what they don’t know is that hazardous bacteria start growing within two hours if food doesn’t get refrigerated. So don’t wait food to cool off completely before putting it in the fridge. You can wait for an hour or two, but no more than that.
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