We tend to give restaurants a hard time, blaming our horrendous food poisoning on the burger at the local fast-food joint, or on the uncooked chicken from the diner across town. But the bacterium that causes food poisoning can brew in our very own kitchens. Yup, that's right: Without proper food handling, salmonella and Staphylococcus aureus can actually grow in the safe haven of your home.
Dr. Larry Weiss, physician and founder of natural antibacterial soap and hand sanitizer maker CleanWell, advises the best ways to keep your kitchen -- and your loved ones -- germ free.
- DO wash your hands and clean the countertops before starting to cook. Continue washing your hands frequently as you cook.
- DO use a cleaner-disinfectant on food contact surfaces, following the manufacturer's directions.
- DO keep raw meat, fish and especially poultry separate from all other ingredients and prepared food. Also, be careful not to refreeze meat items that have already been frozen and defrosted.
- DO rinse off all ingredients, including all vegetables and fruit, even if they're prepackaged as "pre-rinsed" or "ready to serve." Keep in mind that raw fruits and veggies can carry salmonella and E. coli -- so clean all surfaces on and around the sink with antibacterial cleanser once you've prepared your food.
- DO fully clean all raw ingredients and put them in clean bowls or containers before starting to cook.
- DO use separate cutting boards for meat/fish/poultry from the one that you use for fruits/vegetables.
- DON'T use the same dishtowel to wipe the counters and dry your hands.
- DO use microfiber cleaning cloths and throw them in the washing machine with hot water. Weiss prefers cloths to sponges because sponges become contaminated with bacteria more easily and can spread disease faster.
A+ food prep tips
Debra Johnson, training manager for professional cleaning company Merry Maids, says proper food prep begins with the kitchen sink. "Sinks need to be sanitized daily, as food touches so many surfaces. This can be done with warm water and dish detergent."
Johnson also recommends wiping down the handles of cabinets, faucets, fridge, stove and microwave after you handle any meat, fish, poultry, vegetables, fruits or other raw ingredients.
Organization also plays a role in food safety. "Having a place for things is crucial. For instance, placing spices in the cabinet, tools in a kitchen caddy and food in the pantry can decrease the risk of cross-contamination," Johnson says.
Even the simplest of tasks can make a big difference. For instance, when you get home from running errands, where do you put your purse and grocery bags? If your answer is "on the counter or kitchen table," change your habits. According to Marni Jameson, author and nationally syndicated home columnist, it's important to set your grocery bags and purse on the floor when unloading. "Don't set your purse on the floor in a public restroom, then on your kitchen table," she says.
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