Food poisoning is all too common these days. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that it affects around 48 million Americans each year — that's almost 15 percent of the entire population!
While many cases occur when dining out (or eating badly prepared takeout food), some cases are actually a result of bad behavior at home. You may think you're taking all the right precautions to keep your family safe from foodborne illnesses, but in reality, some of your cooking and food prep habits could be more deadly than you think.
Think you could be guilty? We've rounded up five bad (and potentially harmful) kitchen habits you should give the boot to ASAP.
1. Not washing your hands after handling food waste.
Washing your hands before cooking is a no-brainer, but washing your hands throughout the cooking process can be a trickier skill to master. If you're guilty of not washing your hands after handling raw meats or dealing with food waste (we get it — the quicker dinner is on the table, the better!) you could be exposing your family to a greater risk of food poisoning. Neglecting to wash your hands while cooking increases the risk of spreading harmful bacteria that's found on the surface of fresh produce and kitchen surface areas. Fact: The greater the spread of bacteria, the greater the risk of cross-contamination.
Taking around 20 seconds per wash, remembering to frequently sanitize your hands is one of the best ways to cut your food poisoning risk at home.
2. Drying dishes with a kitchen towel.
Just like sponges, kitchen towels are overused. Tasked with everything from wiping up spills to drying the kids' hands, the kitchen towel is quick to become contaminated with harmful germs, especially when it's not cleaned frequently.
Rather than wiping down dishes with a bacteria-infested cloth, give air-drying a go. Not only will it take out some of the added stress from the nightly scrub, but it will also minimize the spread of nasty kitchen germs from your towel to your plates. Genius!
3. Over-packing the fridge.
There's nothing more satisfying than tackling the weekly grocery shop and opening up the doors to a fully stocked fridge, especially when you've somehow managed to fit in all your groceries with Tetris-like skill. However, cramming every nook and cranny with fresh produce, leftovers, and drinks can actually be a bad thing.
An overfilled fridge will reduce the circulation of cold air, meaning some items in your fridge could actually spoil without you even realizing (talk about a food poisoning waiting to happen). Be smart and keep food fresher for longer by compartmentalizing your fridge into food groups, always keeping raw meat wrapped and at the bottom of the fridge. Also, remember to check your fridge's temperature regularly!
4. Storing leftovers for longer than 24 hours.
Often, cooking and preparing meals takes longer than it does for the whole family to gobble it up! So, if you happen to have leftovers, the last thing you want to do is throw them down the garbage chute. Instead, you wrap your extras up and store them in the fridge to be enjoyed at a later time.
However, this approach to leftover storage is risky, as meals containing meat, poultry, and dairy have a short lifespan. Consuming out-of-date meat is incredibly dangerous as it can contain harmful bacteria that will infect the body.
As painful as it is to part with your delicious eats, toss cold leftovers that have been kept for longer than 24 hours, or repurpose them with a cooked recipe (if you reheat leftovers and eat them steaming hot, they're good for up to 48 hours).
5. Taking shortcuts when cleaning.
Cleaning is a grueling chore that no one really enjoys doing. The kitchen, in particular, is an area of the home that is in constant need of attention, so when shortcuts arise to minimize cleaning time, you're likely to take them. Deciding to skip out on wiping down food-prep surfaces or rinsing used dishes instead of washing them with hot, soapy water, are easy enough time-savers that can actually prove incredibly harmful.
Always wipe down counters after cooking and be sure to use hot soapy water or a disinfectant cleaning spray. Regularly change your sponge as overused sponges can harbor more germs than a toilet seat — gross! Also remember that knives, utensils, and chopping boards that have been used for raw chicken, meats, and eggs need to be washed with hot, soapy water to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria.
This post was written by Queensland Health. For more, check out our sister site, Now to Love.