9 Bad Cooking Habits You Learned From Mom That You Need to Quit Now

You got it from your momma, but it's time to break these bad habits.

Mother and daughter cooking in kitchen
Photo: Getty Images

Your mom was always the best home cook in town, and hopefully, she passed those skills (and secret recipes) down to you. But she probably passed along some of her bad kitchen habits, too.

Now you might be thinking, what bad habits? Truthfully, many of us have picked up mom's bad habits. We might not even realize how bad they can be. But it's time to recognize them and leave them in the past.

Of course, we can't blame Mom for all of them either. Some of these habits might have come from Dad or Gramma, Pap, your aunts and uncles, or anyone else you spent time with in the kitchen.

From food safety concerns to improper food storage, and just habits that don't make much sense, ditch these things in the kitchen — and tell your mom it's time she ditches them, too.

1. Leaving Leftovers on the Counter All Day

After cooking, eating, and then cleaning, sometimes Mom just didn't feel like putting the leftovers away. Instead, she packaged up every piece of reusable food and just left it out… sitting on the counter… for hours, or even overnight.

It is OK to leave leftovers at room temperature for two hours. After that period of time, however, you are at risk for potential bacterial contamination, according to the USDA. The bacteria that grows in food at room temperature can cause foodborne illnesses, which leads to flu-like symptoms, such as nausea, fever, and vomiting.

The safest thing you can do to prevent dangerous bacteria growth in food is to immediately package any leftovers, either wrapped in plastic wrap or aluminum foil or sealed in a food storage container, and place the food in your refrigerator.

2. Thawing Meat in the Sink While at Work

More than once, mom forgot to take the meat for that night's dinner out of the freezer until it was too late. So as she was running out the door, you may have seen her throw the big hunk of frozen beef or chicken in the sink to thaw all day while she was gone.

You've done it a time or two since you got your own home and kitchen. But is it a good idea? Probably not, because it puts your food at a serious risk for bacterial contamination.

Similar to cooked foods, raw meat should not be left out at room temperature for longer than two hours, even when frozen. After two hours at room temperature, bacteria can start to grow, which can make you sick later. The outside portions of thawing meat will get to room temperate, a breeding ground for the bad bacteria, before the inside even thaws.

Sorry, Mom, but this habit has got to go.

To properly thaw meat, you can place it in a refrigerator overnight. However, this can take up to 24 hours, so you'll need ample time.

When you need a quick defrost, you can use cold water or a microwave.

To thaw in cold water, place the frozen food in a bag and place it in a bowl of cold water. Replace the water every 20 minutes with fresh water until the meat is thawed.

To thaw in the microwave, you can use the appliance's defrost setting. Just make sure you immediately cook it because the microwave may start to cook some areas of the meat while it's defrosting.

3. Throwing Spaghetti Against the Wall to Test Doneness

First off, Mom, why would you waste perfectly good pasta like that? Being the chef means you get to sneak a few extra pieces while it's cooking, so you can just tell if the pasta is cooked.

Not only is this method a little wasteful and messy, but also it might not even work the way Mom thinks it does.

Yes, sticky spaghetti will stick to the wall, but that actually doesn't have anything to do with its doneness — it just means that the pasta is sticky.

When cooking pasta, most chefs like to cook it to al dente, which means it'll have a tender bite but it's not mushy. And the only way to test if your pasta is al dente is by doing a taste test.

A few minutes before the cooking instructions suggest, pull a strand out of the pot and try it. If it's done, then it's time to serve. If not, then give the pot a couple more minutes on the stove. Save yourself (and the wall) from the mess.

4. Rinsing Chicken in the Kitchen Sink

Mom, why oh why do you do this? Well, it's probably because her mom did it too, but you need to stop immediately!

Chicken should not be washed in your sink. Read that again, because it's very important.

First, it's not necessary. Oftentimes chicken does contain a sodium solution that keeps it flavorful and juicy, so the chicken may have excess moisture in the package. However, rinsing it in your sink can create a bacteria dilemma.

Second, it's been proven that rinsing chicken can spray germs up to three feet from the sink.

If you really want to clean your chicken, simply pat it dry with a paper towel and the moisture will be gone.

Or, if rinsing the chicken is ingrained in your head as a kitchen must-do, make sure you sanitize your sink and three feet around it after rinsing the pieces. That includes the countertops, floor, and even your apron or clothes.

5. Storing Tomatoes in the Crisper Drawer

So, Mom doesn't put leftovers away, she defrosts frozen meat on the counter for hours, but she's in a hurry to throw her tomatoes in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator? Come on now, Mom...

The fridge is actually the worst place to store your fresh tomatoes. Temperatures below 60 degrees F (about 15 degrees C) will turn 'maters into mush.

Instead, you can just leave them right on your counter, or in a food storage container on the counter.

The only time it's better to store tomatoes in the fridge is when they're already cut.

6. Using Margarine and Butter Tubs as Storage Containers

Who would have thought to use the butter tub as a food storage container besides good ol' Mom? Because those mountains of Tupperware in her cabinets just aren't enough, right? She would never throw away a perfectly good container! And it was free!

The only problem with this idea is that reusing plastics marked with #3, #6, and #7 isn't safe. So while the containers are perfectly fine for holding butter, they were not designed to be rewashed and reused two times (or three or 30).

After the butter is gone, throw those containers right in the recycling.

Containers marked with other numbers are fine to reuse, but they shouldn't be microwaved. Instead, dump your food on a plate before reheating — or a better option is using glass food storage containers.

7. Putting Cracked Egg Shells Back in the Container

Mom always said it's easier to put your cracked and emptied eggshells back in the carton so you can throw them away in one swoop. But is it really easier? Or sanitary?

The truth is, once an egg is cracked and emptied, it needs to be thrown away immediately. If you put it back in the carton while you crack more eggs, the bacteria from the raw egg can transfer to the unused eggs, and you could put yourself or others at risk for foodborne illnesses.

And, if you save your used egg cartons for some reason, you should stop. These egg cartons are just homes for bacteria that are waiting to spread. Pop those in the recycling, too.

8. Using One Dish Towel to Clean Every Surface — Including Your Face

Mom always had that one towel that she would use for everything. From cleaning the plates, to wiping the counters, and even wiping your face, that towel did it all.

If you haven't guessed it by now, that's not the most sanitary choice. Her single kitchen towel or sponge was basically a mop for germs. And when she would use it, she was just spreading germs from one surface to the next.

Don't get us wrong kitchen towels and sponges are great — they're the most eco-friendly option too! But when you use the same towel over and over on every surface without changing it out, it defeats its purpose.

Mom probably even had a drawer full of towels that she never used. So you should get a stash of towels and change them out once a week — or better yet, every few days. And if you use sponges, you can microwave it on high for a minute to kill all the germs. (Just make sure the sponge doesn't contain metal.)

9. Storing Bacon Grease on the Counter

If your mom taught you about the beauties of bacon grease, then you probably remember her Mason jar filled with grease always sitting on the counter or stove. You can't really lecture your Mom on this one because her method is, in fact, safe. However, there are safer ways to store bacon grease that we like to do now.

First and foremost, always save your bacon grease. You can use that delicious fat in so many recipes, from cornbread to eggs. And, if you didn't know already, you should never pour bacon grease down the drain.

To store bacon grease, first strain out the little leftover bacon bits. Then dump the grease into a Mason jar or other heat-proof container and store it in the fridge or freezer so it stays fresh longer.


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