By: Nancy Kalish
Anyone who’s ever had food poisoning never wants to have it again. Yet many people are unaware of some basic food safety rules -- or don’t take them seriously enough. Here are the seven kitchen mistakes many people make and get sick … and what you need to remember to not do in order to stay healthy and happy this summer.
1. Keeping your fridge too warm.
I’m a food safety fanatic, and yet when I checked my fridge, I was shocked to discover that even though it felt cold, it was 51 F -- way too warm. “Your fridge should always be set at 40 F or below,” says Mark Nealon, a former New York City restaurant inspector and food safety expert. At warmer temperatures, bacteria begin to grow, vastly increasing your chances of getting ill.
To avoid food poisoning: Use a digital thermometer to check the temperature often -- even if your fridge has a temperature display.
2. Crowding food in the fridge.
Too many items jammed together on the shelves prevent proper air circulation and cooling. On the other hand, it’s OK to pack your freezer, which works more efficiently that way.
To avoid food poisoning: Try to leave a little space between containers in your fridge.
3. Defrosting on the top shelf.
Though it’s better than defrosting meat, poultry or fish out on the counter, many people place raw meat on the top shelf. That’s a big no-no -- any drips can contaminate the food below.
To avoid food poisoning: Always defrost protein foods in the package on a plate or in a container on the fridge’s bottom shelf, advises Nealon.
4. Not washing before you cut.
The rinds of melons and other fruits that grow in the ground often harbor dangerous pathogens, such as deadly Listeria, which was recently found on cantaloupes. If you cut these fruits open without washing them, your knife can transfer the pathogens to the fruits.
To avoid food poisoning: Place some pathogen-killing vinegar in a spray bottle, douse all produce and wait 30 seconds before cutting. Also, avoid buying precut fruits and veggies.
5. Cleaning the cutting board wrong.
You can’t remove the germs from raw meat and poultry (or even vegetables, which have been linked to salmonella outbreaks) by hand-washing your board, even with soap and very hot water.
To avoid food poisoning: Sanitize cutting boards by placing them in the dishwasher or pouring boiling water over them.
6. Reusing grilling tongs.
You probably know better than to use the same plate for raw and cooked poultry or meat. But you could still be contaminating food if you use the same grilling tongs or spatulas.
To avoid food poisoning: After you place raw foods on the grill, do what Nealon does: Place the tips of meat tongs on the grill and close the cover (with the handles of the tongs on the outside). The heat of the grill will kill all bacteria so that they can be used again.
7. Not following the two-hour rule.
That chicken salad might still taste great. But if it’s been sitting out for more than two hours, you’re risking serious illness by eating it. That goes for all other prepared foods, especially during the summer.
To avoid food poisoning: Refrigerate all foods within two hours of cooking; if you don’t, throw them out, says Nealon. “It’s just not worth getting sick.”
Nancy Kalish is a certified health coach, and an editor and writer with more than 20 years of experience. She has covered health, nutrition and oral health for Prevention, Health, SELF, Real Simple, The New York Times, Completely You and more.
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