Determining whether cross-contamination has happened in your kitchen is often difficult, but when it comes to food hygiene, this is one of the main causes of sickness after a meal. Contamination can happen in places that are not obvious, but there are ways that you can prevent contaminating your food to keep your family healthy.
The most common location for contamination is the countertops in your kitchen. We all know to sanitize countertops, especially after using fresh produce or meats on them. Chicken, beef and pork can all carry varieties of microorganisms that can infect other food and make it dangerous to eat. E-coli, salmonella, Taeniasis and Trichinellosis are all illnesses and infections that come from undercooked or raw meats. These bacteria can live on your countertops for quite some time.
Another place where contamination can occur is your refrigerator. While the colder temperatures of a refrigerator typically make poor living conditions for most bacteria, some can actually thrive in colder temperatures.
To stop contamination in your kitchen, here are a few steps to follow:
- Work with meats on a cutting board that is solid and non-porous (such as glass). Do not put uncooked meats on the countertop, especially if it is tiled (grout is porous and can absorb bacteria and create a perfect breeding ground). Using a cutting board to prepare uncooked meat is the safest way to protect your family. When you are finished working with the meat on the cutting board, sanitize the board thoroughly with hot soapy water or anti-bacterial detergent to be sure that it is thoroughly clean.
- Prepare foods separately. Use different cutting boards and areas of the kitchen for different foods, especially meats. By separating the foods while you are preparing them, you are reducing the risk of cross-contamination.
- Be sure to wash your hands well with hot water and anti-bacterial soap and before switching from one task to another. Not washing your hands between the handling of different foods can potentially cross contaminate all the food you are working with. Make hand washing a priority for any one in the kitchen.
- Cook foods properly. Be sure that you are cooking foods, especially meats, to the proper temperature to ensure that any bacteria are killed.
- Store your foods separately in the fridge. It is important to introduce storage solutions into your fridge so that foods are separate. Keeping raw meat next to your cheese, even if it is in the store packaging can contaminate other foods in your fridge. Raw foods, including meat, cheese, vegetables, fruit and eggs should be stored properly in the fridge and in containers to keep them away from other foods. Your produce can also be contaminated with parasites and bacteria, so you should consider storing them in containers or green-bags to keep them separated.
- Be sure that your refrigerator is at the right temperature. The optimum temperature is 370 Fahrenheit, but anywhere from 34 to 400 is fine (roughly, four degrees Celsius is optimal). Keeping your refrigerator too warm causes a breeding ground for bacteria to thrive and grow.
- Wash fruits and vegetables before storing them. By washing them, you could be washing away the harmful bacteria that could contaminate your foods. You are also ensuring that your fresh produce is free from pesticide residue.
- Change utensils when working with new foods. You should have a utensil for each bowl, pot or pan that you are working with.
- Do not touch other surfaces in your kitchen while you are preparing food. If you need to open a cupboard or drawer, wash your hands before doing so.
- Never assume that the person before you cleaned the countertop or cutting board. Even if it does not look dirty, wash the counter or cutting board before you begin to prepare food.
- Use plastic or glass cutting boards. Wooden cutting boards should only be used for bread and some produce, never for meat or fish. Bacteria can continue to grow inside the wood even after it has been cleaned and sanitized.
- Throw away old rags, sponges and scrubbers. These are breeding grounds for bacteria and you are not doing any good washing out a pot, pan or cleaning the kitchen counter with a dirty sponge or rag. You can microwave your newer sponges for two minutes to kill bacteria and germs.