Avoiding Food Contamination at Home
Based on figures released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), every year in the U.S. one in six people suffers through a bout of food poisoning. It can be potentially life threatening to the very young, elderly or people who are suffering from preexisting medical conditions, so take care to avoid dangerous food settings.
There are some nasty bacterial culprits involved, too. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it will give you an idea of what may be lurking under the sneeze guard at your local salad bar, on your dirty hands or on your countertops at home:
- Hepatitis A virus
- Pathogenic E coli
- Rotavirus (group A)
- Shigella sonnei
- Staphylococcus aureus
In Food Prep Areas
- Wash your countertops regularly with warm, soapy water. Soap and water is inexpensive, easy to use and effective. It’s the preferred cleaning method recommended by the CDC.
- If you use sponges, wash them often and thoroughly. By far the best cleaning method is to moisten your kitchen sponge and then heat it in the microwave on high for two minutes and 30 seconds. Do this after every use. This will kill 99.9 percent of bacteria.
- Keep your countertops dry. Most bacteria need moisture to flourish. Using a cleanser or soapy water isn’t enough, the best one-two punch involves cleaning your sink, floor, stove and countertops and then wiping away excess moisture.
- If you have the time to maintain it and the money to afford it, a copper countertop is the most sterile surface available. The copper helps kill all bacteria and just using a copper countertop can keep bacteria down by up to 80% over every other type of countertop.
When Handling Food
- Always wash your hands in warm, soapy water before and after handling food. Really scrub, too. You should keep washing for about the time it takes to sing the happy birthday song (in your head) twice.
- For maximum safety, keep meat, fish and poultry utensils separate from other foodstuffs. This is especially true for items like veggie cutting utensils, sausage stuffers, and draining boards. Chop Your Veggies has a lot of info on veggie safety.
- Perform cleanup duty soon after food prep. The two hour rule applies to food drips, dribbles and spills, too. That drop of turkey gravy may look harmless, but after two hours on your countertop, it could turn into ground zero for a bacterial bloom. Clean it up as soon as possible and you’ll have a cleaner, safer kitchen.
When Storing Food
- Wrap or container prepared foods before storing them. This will help protect your family from cross contamination and preserve the quality of the foods themselves.
- The shallow shelves on your refrigerator door experience the greatest temperature fluctuations when the door is opened and closed. Keep raw meat, fish and poultry on the interior shelves of your refrigerator and not on the door.
- Avoid keeping raw poultry or seafood in your refrigerator longer than 48 hours.
- Avoid keeping raw beef, lamb, veal or pork in your refrigerator longer than five days.
- Use a meat thermometer to make sure you’re reaching the required temperature to kill bacteria.
- After cooking, freeze meat that hasn’t been consumed within four days.
- Keep packaged foods in a cool, dark location whenever possible.
- Keep your refrigerator full. A full refrigerator will maintain a more stable temperature because the additional items help keep the interior cavity cold. You’ll also save money because the refrigerator’s compressor won’t need to cycle on as frequently.