Truth is that most food poisoning occurs from foods prepared at home. Most of them don't get reported because people think it must have been the flu or some sort of stomach bug. But the fact remains that the lack of food safety in the home contributes to a lot of illness.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has come up with 4 simple terms to keep in mind when thinking about kitchen safety. (Thanks to China Millman's article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for many of these ideas. Find out more from the CDC at www.cdc.gov/foodsafety.)
- Wash your hands completely (20 seconds in hot, soapy water) before cooking and often during the cooking process--especially after handling raw proteins.
- Wash all fruits and vegetables in water. Yes, even organic and items that you'll be peeling.
- Don't rinse meats or poultry. You're not going to wash off many of the bad microbes and you'll just be contaminating your sink. Pat them dry with paper towels if you wish.
- Clean cutting boards and countertops with a solution of diluted bleach (1 Tbsp bleach to 1 gallon of water).
- Sponges can be home to a bunch of microbes that can make you sick. Sterilize them by microwaving for 1 minute on high or run them through the dishwasher. Do this frequently.
- Change your dish towels frequently as well. If you accidentally get some chicken juice on one, that won't help things when you go to dry your hands later on.
- Cross-contamination is the biggest concern in your kitchen. Any contact from raw meats or poultry with foods that aren't going to be cooked can be dangerous.
- Always use separate cutting boards--one for meats/poultry, one for other items. Be sure to wash your cutting boards, knives, etc after cutting raw proteins.
- Store these foods separately in your fridge as well. Try to store raw meats/poultry at the bottom of the fridge so there's no danger of them dripping on other items below them. Be sure to keep them well wrapped.
- Be sure to cook proteins to the recommended temperature. To be safest, don't use visual cues to tell you this. Use a thermometer to be sure.
- Refrigerate foods promptly when you get them home.
- Be sure your fridge is no warmer than 40 degrees. Use a refrigerator thermometer to make sure.
- If you don't use raw proteins in a few days, freeze them until ready to use.
- If something in your fridge doesn't look or smell good, toss it. Better to err on the side of caution than get sick.
Does it take a little extra work on your part to make sure you are preventing food-borne illness in your kitchen? Sure. But the alternative is a lot worse!