Food poisoning is one of the most prevalent illnesses today. Starting as a slight discomfort within a few hours of eating, it can turn into a life-threatening emergency requiring hospitalization. Salmonella e-coli and listeria bacteria are the two most common culprits. Fortunately there are a few common sense precautions we can take to reduce the likelihood of a personal, close up experience with food poisoning.
Common breeding grounds in the kitchen for bacteria are dishrags, towels and brushes, cutting boards and kitchen sinks. You can also add to the list cabinet door and drawer handles, refrigerator handles and any utensils or other objects in the kitchen that are handled after touching another contaminated object. The first thing you should be doing to keep your kitchen safe, of course, is frequent and thorough hand washing.
Other precautions you should take include:
- Plan your shopping trips so that any perishables will get home and into the refrigerator as soon as possible.
- Your refrigerator should be set to 40 degrees F, and the freezer to 0 degrees. Do not overfill the refrigerator; the cold air needs to be able to circulate freely.
- Poultry should be washed in cold water when you bring it home from the supermarket and then refrigerated right away. Cook as soon as possible.
- Always wash your hands and everything else that comes into contact with raw poultry. This includes knives, cutting boards, and towels. Do not reuse any of these items for something else without washing them first. One technique you can use to help prevent cross-contamination is to get a set of color-coded cutting boards:
- Green for fruits and vegetables
- Yellow for raw poultry
- Red for raw meat
- Tan for fish and seafood
- White for dairy products
- Blue for cooked food
- Wash all fruits and vegetables when you get them home from the market. This even includes things like bananas.
- Dishrags and towels are one of the biggest breeding grounds for bacteria, so consider using more paper towels.
- Clean your kitchen counters before and after food preparation.
- Always check the labels on condiments, sauces, jams and jellies. If they need refrigeration after opening, do not leave them around on the counter. Do not leave mayonnaise on the counter, especially in warm weather; this also applies to anything made with the mayonnaise.
- Wash eggs with ice cold water before putting them away in the fridge.
- Use a meat thermometer and make sure that all meat, poultry and fish are cooked to the proper temperature to kill dangerous bacteria. Red meat should be brown inside. Chicken should have clear juices when poked with a fork. Fish should flake when poked with a fork.
- Bacteria tend to grow best in a temperature range of 40 and 140 degrees F. If you prepare dishes in advance and then let them cool down they should be reheated to at least 165 degrees F.
- If a can or jar whooshes when you open it throw it away. When you are at the store, inspect cans and jars for damage before you purchase them. Also avoid jars with loose or bulging lids. You should also make it a habit to check the "sell by" or "use by" dates. I've noticed that in the current bad economy you have to be even more careful about this – the supermarket shelves seem to have a lot more items that are almost expired.
- Always drain food over the sink, not in it. Kitchen sinks are teeming with bacteria. Sterilize your sink often, but even so keep edible food out of it.