5 Food Safety Rules You’re Breaking (Without Knowing It)

by in Food Safety, August 1, 2013

cutting board

Skipping out on simple food safety rules may have bigger consequences than you think. Beyond resulting in a belly ache, it can have more serious outcomes for those with weaker immune systems, like young kids, pregnant women and older adults. Here are 5 food safety guidelines that most people forgo because they are busy, forget or just don’t know any better.

#1: Improper Hand Washing
When it comes to hand washing, most folks don’t do it often enough or properly. When working in the kitchen you should wash your hands:

  • Before starting to handle food
  • Between handling raw food and ready-to-eat food
  • After using the restroom
  • After taking a break to talk on the phone or answer the door
  • After sneezing and after scratching/touching your skin or clothes

Many folks just quickly rinse their hands under the water for several seconds, disregarding the soap or using a dirty towel to dry their clean hands, resulting in re-contamination. Remember to sing “Happy Birthday” twice and having clean towels on hands. Here’s a rundown of the 5 steps for proper hand washing.

#2: Defrosting on the Counter Top
The last time my mom left food out overnight, our German shepherd had a great steak dinner! But many people have the terrible habit of defrosting meat and poultry on their counter top while they’re at work or asleep for the night. This is asking for trouble, as one bacterium can multiply to over 1 billion in just 10 hours—which is plenty to make someone sick. To properly defrost meat and poultry, place it in the refrigerator the night before, defrost in the microwave, or run under cool water (for smaller sized of frozen foods like shrimp). If you choose to defrost in the microwave, be sure to cook it right away since the meat is partially cooked at that point. If you have a lot of meat (like for a barbecue), then place it in the refrigerator 1 to 2 days ahead.

#3: Cross-Contamination
There are several forms of cross-contamination that take place in the kitchen. Many folks prepare raw meat and use the same cutting board and utensils to then slice fresh fruit or vegetables. If the vegetables are then left out for a prolonged period of time, this gives harmful bacteria the opportunity to grow to amounts that can make you sick. Another form of cross-contamination is storing raw meat in the fridge above foods that won’t be cooked like cheese, fruits and vegetables. Juices from the raw meats can easily drip on those ready-to-eat foods.

To prevent cross-contamination, clean and sanitize cutting boards, knives and work surfaces between raw and ready-to-eat foods (like vegetables). Also, be sure to wash your hands after handling raw foods. When storing food in the fridge, wrap raw meats before storing them on the bottom area of the fridge.

#4: Undercooking Food
Many folks use their eyes to determine if the food is fully cooked. Unfortunately, this isn’t the proper way to determine if a food is done. The most accurate way is to measure the internal temperature. To do so, you’ll need to make a small investment in a food thermometer.

#5: Keeping Leftovers for Too Long
When was the last time you cleaned out your refrigerator? Whether holding on to deli meats or store condiments well past their expiration date, many folks keep their foods for way too long. All foods have to be tossed at some point—as indicated on this handy list. You can also download the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics My Food Safe app for a full list of foods.

TELL ME: How many of these food safety rules have you broken?

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby’s full bio »

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