5 Kitchen Habits to Break (Upgrade Your Food Safety Stats!)

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We often think those small bad habits in the kitchen are no big deal. But it’s the little things that can lead to food-borne illness. In honor of Food Safety Month (September!), here are five less-than-squeaky-clean practices worth quitting.

The Habit: Reusing grocery bags

A survey conducted by the Home Food Safety program found that 85 percent of Americans aren’t washing their reusable grocery bags. The problem: Raw foods, including meat, chicken and eggs, leave potentially harmful bacteria inside those totes. And those bacteria can be transferred to produce if the same bag is reused without being cleaned.

The Solution

Wash reusable bags frequently. Cloth bags can be tossed into the washing machine or cleaned by hand with soap and warm water. Wipe down plastic-coated bags with antibacterial spray or wipes.

Variety is the spice of life

The Habit: Loving the five-second rule

Researchers from Aston University in England examined the accuracy of the storied five-second rule, assessing how bacteria were transferred on food on different types of flooring, such as carpet, laminate and tile. They found that E.Coli and Staphylococcus aureus are least likely to get on food after five seconds if the food falls on the carpet. But, uh, that’s not to say that you won’t get fuzz balls and dirt in your food.

The Solution

Just toss any food that hits the floor.

The Habit: Eyeballing doneness

Many cooks rely on visual cues to check the doneness of meat and poultry. But as with so many things in life, looks can be deceiving. According to a USDA test, 1 out of 4 hamburgers will turn brown in the middle before reaching a safe cooking temperature.

The Solution

Use a thermometer to check the internal temperature of the food, using the Home Food Safety website to find out proper cooking temperatures for various ingredients.

The Habit: Half-baked handwashing

Not using soap, wiping on a contaminated towel and not washing long enough are typical sins when it comes to hand washing. And people often don’t wash their hands after mundane tasks such as talking on the phone, going to the restroom or touching their hair or face.

The Solution

Follow these five simple steps to get hands washed properly — and be sure to wash hands often.

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The Habit: Rinsing meat in the sink

You may think you’re decreasing bacteria on meat or poultry by rinsing it before cooking. But that water splashes everywhere — including on dishes in the sink and on counter tops — contaminating everything.

The Solution

According to USDA guidelines, it’s best never to rinse meat and poultry. Instead, cook them to the proper minimum internal temperature to ensure that any bad bacteria are destroyed.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.