When preparing food throughout the year, and especially during the holidays, it’s easy to forget about food preparation and food safety. Food poisoning and foodborne illnesses are common, but easily preventable, if you take the right steps beforehand. Learning how to properly thaw, wash, cut, cook, and store foods can mean the difference between enjoying a delicious meal and spending the night in the emergency room.
Although there are many types of foodborne illnesses, the four most common are listeria, e. Coli, salmonella, and norovirus. Here are 10 easy ways to avoid coming in contact with these and other germs by practicing proper food handling.
Tips on How to Avoid Foodborne Illnesses When Cooking
1. Practice Good Hand-Washing
Surprisingly, the most common source of foodborne illnesses is a cook’s own hands. Whether you need to take a bathroom break in the middle of food preparation or you’ll be moving from raw meats to fresh veggies, take a minute to soap up like you’re preparing for surgery. Use warm water, antibacterial soap, and plenty of friction.
Contrary to popular thought, excessively hot water isn’t what kills germs in hand-washing; it’s the friction that comes from rubbing your hands together. To make sure that you’re applying adequate friction, adopt a hand-washing song that keeps you scrubbing for at least 20 seconds.
2. Copy Your Recipes
Another common and incredibly surprising source of foodborne illnesses are mobile phones. How many people source their recipes online using mobile devices? How many of these same individuals use their mobile devices while on the commode? If you use your smartphone in the bathroom, don’t let it double as a cooking tool. Use hand sanitizer or another disinfecting agent to clean your mobile phone before calling recipes up. In fact, take the time to write out recipes by hand before you start handling food. If you ever have to touch your phone while cooking, head back to the sink and thoroughly wash your hands again.
3. Don’t Make Your Utensils Do Double Duty
It’s no secret that raw meat is a major source of food poisoning. Wash your hands after handling raw meat and before you start chopping salads, setting the table, or engaging in any other activities. More importantly, don’t make your utensils do double duty. Keep cutting boards and knives for meat separate from cutting boards and utensils used for fruits and vegetables.
4. Wash Ready-to-Serve Vegetables
Ready-to-serve salads and leafy greens often indicate that they’ve already been washed on their packages. What many consumers don’t know is that these vegetables are often washed and packed directly in the fields in which they’ve been picked. Not only does this mean that they’ve been treated with dubious water sources, but they’ve also been handled by hands that could use a good washing themselves. Always wash all of your fruits and vegetables before cooking with or serving them. For added safety, rinse your fresh produce in a mild white vinegar and water solution.
5. Defrost Frozen Meat in the Refrigerator
Don’t leave your meat out on the counter to defrost for hours at a time. Plan in advance by placing frozen meat in the refrigerator in a leak-safe container or pan. Keep in mind that as meats defrost, their packaging will leak blood and spread bacteria. Place them on a shelf where spills aren’t likely to come in contact with produce or other items that will be served raw.
6. Pay Attention to Sell-by and Use-by Dates
There is definitely some flexibility in sell-by dates. However, you should never consume foods like milk, meat, and eggs after their use-by dates. Even though these things may smell and taste fresh, the risks of eating them are simply too high.
7. Cook Meat Thoroughly
One of the easiest ways to avoid foodborne illnesses caused by raw or uncooked meat is by purchasing a meat thermometer. Find out how hot the inner temperature of your meat should be based upon its thickness and type. Meat thermometers are low in cost and they’ll give you a quick and accurate reading of core temperatures so that you can avoid burning meals and avoid making everyone ill.
8. Cool Leftovers Right Away
Kicking back to relax while dishes simmer or gradually cool on a warm stove is a recipe for disaster. After serving everyone, package the remaining food right away and cool it down quickly. Bacteria is far less likely to grow in your remaining dishes when they’re stored properly.
9. Clean Your Cleaning Implements
You might be spreading harmful bacteria from surface to surface with your kitchen towel or sponge. Kitchen towels and sponges harbor harmful bacteria that can lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and more. Wash and dry linens and replace sponges once every one to two weeks.
10. Make Every Cook Aware of Your Prevention Strategies
If you’ve got helpers in the kitchen, be sure that they know the rules and follow them. It makes no sense to constantly wash your own hands if there’s someone else mopping up beef blood with your dish towel or regularly swiping at a filthy mobile phone.
Limiting all the ways in which bacteria can be introduced into your foods is only one part of the process. Proper heating and proper food storage help ensure that existing organisms are killed off and that their populations don’t spiral out of control. To find out more about food safety, consider attending one of our classes at Avidity Medical Design Academy, or check out our other blogs on the subject.