Simple Kitchen and Food Safety Tips for the Home Cook
The United States has one of the safest food supplies in the world — but even so, a few simple sanitation practices could prevent millions of cases of food-borne illness each year. Follow these basic precautions to help safeguard your family from harmful bacteria:
Wash You Hands. Use warm water and soap, scrubbing between fingers and under fingernails. You should wash your hands for twenty seconds, or long enough to sing, "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."
Wash all fruits and vegetables — even packaged greens that are labeled "pre-washed."
Don't always rely on shelf-life dates. Smell and check your food for offensive odors or colors before cooking or serving. If in doubt, toss it out.
Check refrigeration temperature. Every 3 months, check the fridge temperature for accuracy with an external thermometer. See more below about fridge safety.
Never taste contents of a can that is bloated, dented or rusted. Discard it immediately. Many bacteria produce toxins that are not killed by cooking and can cause severe illness.
Avoid cross-contamination. Raw meats should never be cut on the same cutting boards as vegetables that will be consumed raw. Clean produce shouldn't share workspace with unwashed fruits and vegetables--wash melon rinds, potatoes and onions before slicing or trimming them. Never use marinades or sauces that have been used for raw meats unless you've cooked them first.
Don't consume food that has been left out longer than two hours. Cool hot foods to about 40 degrees F and refrigerate promptly.
How to Keep the Refrigerator a Safe Space
The most important appliance for food safety is the refrigerator. In busy households, it's easy to forget to monitor basic equipment for problems until they break down completely. To keep your fridge in fine shape, try the following:
Check the fridge's internal temperature: it should be a maximum of 40 degrees F —preferably cooler. Freezers should be kept at 0 degrees F and below. Temperatures below 40 degrees F will slow bacterial growth, while temps above 140 degrees will kill bacteria, although it won't destroy any residual toxins.
Don't over-stuff your fridge — proper air circulation is imperative to keep products cool.
Practice the food rotation system "FIFO" (First In, First Out). Use up older products first before opening new packages.
Once a week, do a clean sweep of the fridge. Check produce and other perishables, and throw out any items past their prime or expiration date. Scheduling your cleaning for the day before garbage pick-up is ideal.
Remove odors with a lemon juice-sprinkled sponge. Keep an open box of good old-fashioned baking soda in the refrigerator and another one in the freezer to absorb odors.
Avoid using chemical cleaning solutions inside the fridge. Basic ingredients that you probably already have on hand are great for sanitizing. Use warm water mixed with lemon juice or white vinegar for a radiant and chemical-free shine.
Distilled white vinegar has a limitless shelf-life, is a great sanitizer, is economical, and is one of the best grease eliminators around. Keep a spray bottle of undiluted vinegar handy for quick clean-ups. For more, check out How to Clean Your Fridge in 5 Easy Steps.