The United States has one of the safest food supplies in the world–but simple sanitation practices could prevent millions of cases of food-borne illness each year.
Most meals are prepared and consumed at home. Follow these basic precautions to help safeguard your family from harmful bacteria:
- Wash your 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, throw it out.
- Check refrigeration temperature every 3 months for accuracy with an external thermometer.
- 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. Cross-contamination is a serious hazard in any kitchen.
- Don’t consume food that has been left out longer than two hours; cool hot foods to about 40 degrees F and refrigerate promptly.
- 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.
- Avoid using chemical cleaning solutions inside the fridge. Instead, use warm water mixed with lemon juice or white vinegar for a radiant and chemical-free shine.
- 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.
- Disinfecting cutting boards: water and dishwashing detergents can weaken surface fibers on wood cutting boards and butcher block counter tops. Instead, wipe them with full strength white vinegar after each use. The acetic acid in the vinegar is a good disinfectant, effective against many harmful bugs.
- Jars, containers, drinking glasses and china: fill with equal parts vinegar, water and soap and let stand for 10-15 minutes; clean and rinse.
- Chrome and stainless steel: wipe down with vinegar and water; buff with a soft cloth.
Bleach – Create a sanitizing solution of 100 parts per million of bleach to cool or tepid water: use ¼ tsp. bleach for every quart of water. Using hot water will cause the bleach to evaporate and lose its effectiveness.
- Disinfect trash containers on a regular basis; mark it on the calendar as a reminder.
- After washing cutting surfaces, clean them with bleach solution.
- Wash sponges, dishrags and dishtowels frequently.
- Never combine bleach with cleaning products that contain ammonia, such as glass cleaners.