Should you use plastic in the microwave? Are wooden cutting boards filled with bacteria? Rebekah George, editor of Prevention, visited Weekend TODAY to share the do's and don'ts of kitchen safety. Read an excerpt from the magazine:
7 mistakes even safe cooks make
Think restaurants are scary? Turns out you’re also at risk in your very own kitchenBy Anna Roufos
Most people worry about food poisoning — except when they’re doing the cooking. But here’s a shocker: Nearly 25% of victims of foodborne illness get it from a home-cooked meal, according to the CDC. “Research proves that people are not as careful handling food as they need to be,” says Janet B. Anderson, RD, a clinical professor of nutrition and food sciences at Utah State University. “Many of them believe they’re doing a good job, but when we actually study their behavior, they’re not.”
Find out where you might be tripping up — and how easily you can make changes that will keep your family safe.
Mistake #1: You wash your hands before cooking
Yes, it’s a good first step — but research shows you need to wash several times while cooking to stay safe. Try to wash up every time you switch to a new component of the meal — say, when moving from meat to veggies to spices. Most “violations” occur when you go back and forth between meat (or poultry, egg or seafood) and ready-to-eat foods such as salad fixings without washing hands in between, suggests a recent food safety study led by Anderson.
Stay extra safe: Don’t wash up on autopilot. Count to 20 while rubbing hands under water. And use soap — rinsing alone won’t get rid of bacteria.
Mistake #2: You wash produce as soon as you get home from the market It’s nice to have fresh herbs and veggies cleaned and ready for you to begin cooking. But if you wash produce before you stash it in the fridge, mold and other microbes can grow in moisture left behind, says Linda J. Harris, PhD, associate director of research at the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security at the University of California, Davis. Instead, clean produce right before you prepare it.
Stay extra safe: Discard the outer layer of lettuce and cabbage, where contamination is most likely to occur. Then rinse the rest of the head (skip the soap — it could leave a residue, which you don’t want to eat).
Mistake #3: You rinse only fruit with edible skin Surprise: Fruits with inedible peels or rinds, such as bananas and melons, can be as risky as those you eat whole — because bacteria on the surface can be transported inside by a knife when you slice through it. Rinse while using a scrub brush to remove dirt, debris, and germs; toss the brush into the dishwasher afterward.
Stay extra safe: Cut stems from tomatoes, strawberries and peppers after washing so bacteria can’t seep inside.
Mistake #4: You clean as you cookGood move. Unless you’re too free with your dish towel — chopping a potato, wiping the cutting board, then using the towel to clean your serving bowls, too, where it could spread germs that can make you sick. Use dish towels only to dry clean hands, and rely on paper towels and an antimicrobial disinfectant to wipe down countertops and cutting boards.
Stay extra safe: You’d never put raw meat, which can be loaded with bacteria, directly on the counter. So don’t set unwashed produce down there, either — put it on a dish or cutting board you can wash later.
Mistake #5: You leave meals warming on the stove top or in the ovenBacteria can thrive when food is anywhere from 41°F to 135°F — a surprisingly large range. So setting aside a meal — say, in a still-warm oven or on the stove top — for a family member to eat later may allow it to spoil. “Even foods that seem harmless, like rice or pasta, could become dangerous,” warns Mary Weaver, technical manager of retail food safety for NSF International, a nonprofit public health organization in Ann Arbor, MI. And don’t think reheating a dish that’s been sitting out will make it safe: Some toxins that can form when food is left out too long are resistant to heat. A good rule of thumb: If your loved one will be more than two hours late, stick the dish in the fridge until it’s ready to be warmed up.
Stay extra safe: Store hot leftovers in small, shallow containers; that allows food to cool more quickly. Don’t stack too many containers together — a tightly packed refrigerator doesn’t cool as efficiently, allowing bacteria to grow.
Mistake #6: You set your fridge temp to “cold” You’d think that would be cool enough to slow the growth of bacteria. But because built-in control dials don’t tell you what the actual temperature is, you can’t be sure you’re keeping food between 35°F and 40°F, which is where it needs to be to do the job, says Patricia Kendall, PhD, RD, a professor of food science and nutrition at Colorado State University. To compensate, buy a thermometer that attaches to the inside wall or sits on a shelf (try OXO Good Grips Refrigerator/Freezer Thermometer, $13, amazon.com) and check it once a month.
Stay extra safe: Buy a thermometer for the freezer, too — it should read 0°F, the temp at which food freezes solid.
Mistake #7: You cook burgers until the pink is gone
Think that if a burger looks well-done, it must be germ free? Kansas State University research shows the eyeball method doesn’t work — a meat thermometer is the only way to tell if it’s been cooked to a safe 160°F. Thawed meat can turn a little brown, so it might look done before it really is, while some lean burgers might still look pink when they hit 160°F. To check a burger’s doneness, insert the thermometer into the center of the meat, and chow down only if the reading is 160°F or higher.
Stay extra safe: If the burger’s not hot enough and you have to cook it longer, be sure to wash the thermometer before you test the meat again to avoid cross-contamination.
Did you know?Produce is responsible for almost twice as many cases of food poisoning as poultry and almost three times as many as beef, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
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