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Don’t Make These Food Safety Mistakes

Don’t Make These Food Safety Mistakes

You can shop, store, prepare, and serve food with the best of them, right? Maybe not. Lots of “routine” food handling habits can breed and spread bacteria. They can also make you and your family very sick. Are you making key safety mistakes without knowing it?

Are You Making These Mistakes?

You can shop, store, prepare, and serve food with the best of them, right? Maybe not. Lots of “routine” food handling habits can breed and spread bacteria. They can also make you and your family very sick. Are you making key safety mistakes without knowing it?

You Clean Your Counters in One Step

Listeria bacteria can linger on surfaces for up to 6 days, making a film that makes it hard to kill. So you need to sanitize -- not just clean -- your kitchen counters and sinks, and that takes two steps. First, clean your counters and sinks with hot soapy water to take care of dirt and spills. Then spray them with sanitizer and let it sit long enough to kill germs. (Check the label for the length of time.) Rinse if needed and let dry.

You Don’t Wash Your Reusable Bags

Do you take reusable market bags to the store instead of choosing paper or plastic at checkout? Great. You’re not done yet, though. A study found uncooked juice on 61% of raw poultry packages, 34% of shoppers' hands, and 41% of grocery bags. Raw meat liquid can carry dangerous bacteria like salmonella or E. coli. In between shopping trips, toss your totes into the washer and dryer.

You Cut Out All Plastic

There’s a place for plastic when it comes to food safety. When you shop, before you place a pack of raw meat, poultry, or fish into your to-go tote, grab a disposable plastic bag from a store dispenser. It’ll catch juice runoff from the package that could get on other food (and your bag). Throw out the disposable bag when you use the meat. Use separate bags for meat, produce, and other items.

Your Meat Lingers in the Fridge

You know to rush your freshly purchased meat to the fridge. You’ll need to prepare it quickly, too -- within a couple of days, tops. Use the “first in, first out” rule for your fresh foods. If it’s going to be a while, stash it in the freezer. If the meat meets your prep-soon plan, place it on the bottom shelf, or it could drip and spoil food below.

Your Fridge Isn’t Cool

Your refrigerator should be cold enough to keep bacteria -- which grow most quickly between 40 and 140 F -- at bay. To check the temp, place a glass kitchen thermometer in a glass of water. Set it in the middle of the fridge, and leave it for 5 to 8 hours. If the thermometer doesn’t read below 40, tweak the temp control and try again. Meanwhile, your freezer should stay a nice round 0 F.

You Store Produce in the Wrong Place

If your produce picks are delicate and easily spoiled -- think berries, mushrooms, and lettuce -- they go straight to the fridge. The same for anything pre-cut or peeled, as well as what you chop or prepare once you’re home. Two hours is the longest time that sliced fruits and veggies should be left on the counter or serving tray.

You Don’t Wash the Outsides

Say you’re scooping melon or slicing pineapple. Even if you won’t eat the skin or the rind, it stills need a good scrub or rinse under running water. (You don’t need fancy produce wash or soap.) Your knife can carry dirt and bacteria from the skin right into the juicy fruit you’re serving up.

You Don’t Check the Heat of Your Meat

Swear you can tell how well -- or rare -- your meat is cooked just by eyeballing it? Color and texture alone don’t promise your food is safe to eat. Only a meat thermometer knows for sure. Meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs need to reach certain internal temps to zap harmful bacteria.

You Don’t Wash Your Hands Enough

Sure, you wash your hands before you prepare a meal. Even so, it’s easy to spread germs around your kitchen as you move from station to station. Lather up again with plain soap and water, then dry with a clean cloth, every time you:

  • Handle raw meat, eggs, poultry, or seafood
  • Clean or wipe with chemicals
  • Touch the trash can
  • Give the dog or cat a treat, or touch pet food
  • Cough or sneeze

Your Cleaning Tools Aren’t Clean

The scariest things in your kitchen aren’t the knives. They’re the germy, bacteria-laden dishrags and sponges lying around. Every couple of days, zap damp sponges in the microwave for 60 seconds. Or set them in the dishwasher on a drying cycle. This should kill over 99% of the germs, bacteria, and viruses. After 2 weeks, toss the sponges. Dishcloths can go in the washing machine on hot, and dried on high. 

You Leave Food Out Too Long

Put leftovers in the fridge ASAP. Cooked dishes and foods shouldn’t be out for more than 2 hours tops, and 1 hour if it’s hot out (over 90 F). And that takeout pizza or Thai? The timer starts on the way to your house, not after it arrives -- especially if it spends the night on your counter. It might still look and smell harmless in the morning, but bacteria will have had even more time to breed.

Your Frozen Food Gets a Bad Wrap

The packaging you buy your meat in is OK to leave on when you freeze it. You’ll need a protective outer layer to keep out air and stave off freezer burn, though. Good choices:

  • Strong moisture-resistant wrap
  • Sturdy containers like plastic or aluminum
  • Heavy-duty aluminum foil
  • Store-bought freezer bags

You Set Food Out to Thaw

Never let food thaw on the counter or outside. Choose one of these methods:

  • Put meat in the fridge to thaw a day or so before you want to use it.
  • To speed up the process, submerge the meat in cold water in a leak-proof bag. Change the water every 30 minutes.
  • Microwave on “thaw.” Then cook right away.

No time at all? You can start from frozen. Just give it 50% more time to cook.