Most of us spend the rest of our lives trying to forget junior high school. Sure there were some great times, but the majority of it was a long period of awkwardness, growth spurts, braces, bad hair and makeup choices, and relationships that we honestly believed would end in marriage only to end in disastrous heartache two weeks (or sometimes two hours later). I can truthfully say I don’t remember much I learned in my classes during those years, especially the elective classes. I took several versions of Home Ec. and though I know I loved those classes, mostly because it was an opportunity to goof off and cook food and snack on it. There was always some “Johnny Hottie” that I would flirt with the whole time… ah the magic of the wonder years. Home Ec. classes were all about food safety and things that should be basic common sense, but as a good friend of mine recently said “Common sense is not always common knowledge.” Let’s review some basic food safety points and refresh our memory on how to keep ourselves and our families safe.
1.) Wash Your Hands.
A lot food poisoning incidents could be prevented if someone had just washed their hands. You should always wash your hands before, during, and after preparing any food. (that includes before you eat) Make sure you wash your hands after handling any raw meat or chicken; I even go ahead and wash after handling fish and also vegetables. If you sneeze, or cough while cooking you should wash your hands again. Does your dog follow you around the kitchen like mine? Do you unconsciously pat them on the head, like I sometimes do? Yep, wash your hands again. Sometimes you have to touch the garbage can while cooking, wash your hands after that too! These seem like no brainer things but a lot of time we simply do not think while cooking. When washing your hands you should always use a good soap and warm water. Rub your hands together to make a good soapy lather. Be sure that you get the backs of your hands and between your fingers and the very commonly missed wrist area! It is recommended that you rub your hands with that soapy lather for at least 20 seconds. (if you need help with that then sing the alphabet to yourself) Rinse your hands and dry with a clean towel or paper towel.
2.) BEFORE cutting vegetables or fruit wash them.
You would be amazed at the number of people I know who do not wash their fruits or veggies! All those pesticides and dirt and bugs…. Ick. Think about the fact that all of those contaminants get onto your knife that is now slicing through the part of the food you intend to eat! Now your food is contaminated with everything that was on the outside of your vegetable or fruit! Even if you plan to peel the vegetable or fruit, wash it first. If you are peeling a potato for example, you are holding the potato and peeling away the skin. You are touching the dirty skin of the potato and when you handle the now peeled potato you are putting all of those germs right back onto the potato!
3.) Make sure you read the bags of your bagged Veggies!
Not all bagged salad greens or other vegetables are washed! We usually assume they all are but they aren’t all prewashed. I prefer to rinse all my bagged veggies just in case there is some cross contamination somewhere. Better safe than sorry.
4.) WASH cutting boards, counters, and utensils with HOT water and soap after working with raw meats.
This is pretty obvious, but worth mentioning. You could use an antibacterial spray on the counters but they are not a good idea for wooden cutting boards or you utensils. Wooden cutting boards are great and I love them. However you should have one that you cut meat on and one that you cut everything else on. Wooden cutting boards have natural grooves from the wood grain and absorb some of those meat juices. Bacteria can grow in the natural grooves and in the grooves caused by cutting on the board! Never wash a wooden cutting board in the dishwasher or leave it to soak in water! (The same goes for wooden spoons) The water will cause the wood’s cellulose to expand and as it dries the wood can crack, ruining the appearance of your board (or spoon) and allowing even more space for bacteria growth. I recommend oiling your board with olive oil every now and then to help seal the wood and keep it looking great. (Oil those wooden spoons too!) Cutting boards not made of wood can be put in the dishwasher. However please remember that glass, marble, or granite boards are hard on your knives!
5.) Keep your prepped food separate.
If you are like me you like to complete all your prep work before you start cooking. This means you should keep your raw meats away from any vegetables or pastas or anything else you are prepping. I read a good tip once that you should have two different colored cutting boards in your kitchen to help you remember; a red cutting board for meats and a green cutting board for vegetables. While I am not that extreme it is a good idea if you have trouble remembering which board you use for which product. This will help you avoid cross contamination!
6.) Refrigerate promptly!
If you don’t plan to use the prepped food right away put it in the refrigerator to keep it chilled and inhibit any bacteria growth. Harmful bacteria can double in number in as little as 20 minutes; avoid the “danger zone” of 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. *Most refrigerators are set at or below 40 degrees* (or they should be) Always remember that raw meat should always be stored on a tray on the lowest shelf; this keeps any juices from contaminating other food products.
7.) Use a Meat Thermometer!
Cooking your food to the proper temperature ensures that all dangerous bacteria is killed. E-coli, salmonella, botulism, and hepatitis are dangerous and potentially deadly. Double check that your food has met the recommended core temperature. (I have included a chart)
Remembering these simple guidelines can keep you and your family healthy and keep germs and bacteria out of your kitchen!