13 Unhealthy Kitchen Habits to Break

To keep your kitchen healthy, break these common habits.

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Breaking Bad Habits

We often think those small bad habits in the kitchen are no big deal. But it’s the little things that can lead to foodborne illness. In order to keep you and your family healthy, here are 13 less-than-squeaky-clean practices worth quitting.

Defrosting Meat & Poultry on the Countertop

Harmful microorganisms multiply quickly at room temperature. Leaving meat and poultry to defrost on the countertop overnight allows millions — or even billions — of microorganisms to flourish. Even cooking cannot destroy all these bad boys.

The Solution: Defrost meat in the refrigerator overnight. For larger meats, like a whole chicken or turkey, you may need a little advanced planning and thaw time of 1-2 days.

Forgetting to Wash Reusable 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.

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 countertops — contaminating everything.

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

Storing Raw Meat Over Fresh Produce

Raw meat, chicken, or fish can drip onto fresh fruits and vegetable or other ready-to-eat foods stored below it. This can potentially lead to illness or whatever microorganism just dripped onto the food, especially if you aren’t cooking the foods.

The Solution: Store raw meat, chicken, or fish at the bottom of your fridge and keep them in a shallow pan in case they drip.

Tasting Food to Check Freshness

Using smell or sight to check if a food is good is usually enough. Some folks, however, take the extra step and give it a taste. If the food isn’t okay, then you could be ingesting harmful microorganisms and getting yourself sick.

The Solution: Use your senses other than taste to check for freshness. If you're still in doubt, toss it out!

Using Contaminated Sponges

Many folks clean their dirty dishes with the same sponge they wipe up spills and then clean their counter top. Those sponges are a vehicle from transferring bacteria from one surface to the other. The cleanliness of these sponges is oftentimes overlooked. Think about when was the last time you cleaned your sponge?!

The Solution: Microwaving sponges for 2 minutes can destroy more than 99% of germs. When microwaving, be sure the sponge is wet and allow the sponge to cool before removing from the microwave. You can also run sponges through your dishwasher.

Only Using One Cutting Board

Cutting raw meat, chicken or fish on your cutting board and then using the same cutting board to slice fresh fruits or vegetables can lead to illness. There is a high chance that you are transferring disease-causing microorganisms from the raw meats to the fresh produce.

The Solution: Use two separate cuttings boards, one for raw meat, chicken and fish and the other for produce. Or, wash your cutting board with hot water and soap in-between different using it for raw meat and fruit or vegetables.

Returning Leftovers to the Fridge

When food sits out at room temperature for over 2 hours, illness-causing bacteria can grow rapidly and lead to illness. If the food is left out in temperature above 90 degrees, then 1 hour is long enough for the bacteria to thrive.

The Solution: Toss food that sits out at room temperature for over 2 hours (or if temperatures exceed 90-degrees, for more than 1 hour). If you’re on a road trip or at a picnic, pack perishable food in insulated containers filled with ice or cold packs.

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.

Believing in 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: Toss any food that hits the floor.

Tasting the Batter

Eating batters containing raw eggs like cookie dough or cake batter can lead to salmonella poisoning or the ingestion of other harmful bacteria. Even if the dough doesn’t have raw eggs, the raw flour can contain E. Coli, which can also lead to illness.

The Solution: Avoid eating cookie dough or other uncooked batters.

Reusing the Same Plate

Using the same plate from raw meat and then placing the cooked meat can re-contaminate the meat with potentially harmful microorganisms and lead to illness.

The Solution: Always use two different clean plates, one for raw meat and the other for the cooked meat.

Half-Baked Hand Washing

Skipping the 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.