As someone who’s timid in the kitchen, I’m always worried about making sure I do things “right.” I love reading tips for kitchen newbies like me. Not only do I want to make sure the items I prepare taste great, but I also want to make sure I’m following the “rules” and not getting anyone sick with my food! I end up doing a lot of research on the proper ways to prepare and store food, and the best ways to be sure I’m keeping my kitchen clean.
In my research over the last few years, I’ve learned a lot, so here are a few (possibly common) kitchen practices that could actually be harmful.
Bad Practice #1: Thawing meat (of any kind) on the kitchen counter or in a hot water bath.
If you leave meat on the counter to thaw, or if you try thawing meat using a hot or warm water bath, you’re opening yourself up to foodborne illness. The safest way to thaw meat is by placing it in the refrigerator and letting it do so naturally. It requires planning and can be time-consuming (just one pound of meat takes up to one full day to properly thaw), but it’s the safest route by far.
If you need the meat sooner, you can try using the cold water thawing method (which requires a sealed bag, a cold water bath, and your attention every 30 minutes to change the water), or microwave thawing.
Or, you can always opt not to thaw the meat at all! It’s completely safe to cook meat from its frozen state.
Bad Practice #2: Using an unclean sponge.
If you use a sponge to clean your countertops, you could actually be spreading bacteria rather than killing it. So make sure your sponge is clean by microwaving it wet for two minutes each day, and replacing it every two weeks. (There’s a reason sponges are so cheap!)
You can also nix the sponge all together and opt for disinfecting wipes to help clean your kitchen surfaces.
Regardless of what method you choose, make sure you’re sanitizing your counters after preparing meals and especially if you’re cooking with chicken. This also applies to cutting boards, if you use them. A cutting board used to chop up chicken should not then be used to cut up vegetables without a thorough wash.
Bad Practice #3: Not washing your hands enough.
We already know the basics of cleanliness in the kitchen: no licking the spoon and using it to stir; no sticking your fingers in the food; wash your hands before touching any food; and wash your hands after touching certain items like raw chicken or eggs.
But there are plenty of other occasions that require a little hand-washing, too. The FDC says we should be washing our hands using warm water and soap before making food, and after:
- Using tobacco
- Using a tissue
- Prepping raw animal products
- Handling dirty equipment
- Touching the body (like scratching your nose, pushing your hair out of your face, etc.)
So get to scrubbing!
Bad Practice #4: Waiting too long to store food.
You should always abide by the “two hour rule” when it comes to foods, according to FightBac.org. This means you should either eat or refrigerate food items within two hours of cooking, preparing, or purchasing them.
If the food will be left out in an area where the temperature is 90 degrees F or above, then it needs to be refrigerated within only an hour (after that, it should be thrown away).
Bad Practice #5: Keeping your fridge too warm or overstocked.
Your refrigerator temperature should be set at 40 degrees F and not a degree higher. Above this temperature, bacteria is able to grow on your food (gross).
Similarly, if your fridge is overstocked, that can actually speed up the rate at which the food inside spoils. (Who knew?) An overstocked refrigerator can prevent proper air circulation, so do your best to leave space between items. (It’s important to note that this rule doesn’t apply to your freezer, so feel free to pack that as tightly as you want.)
Bad Practice #6: Not knowing the rules of leftovers.
When we try to eat leftovers, we mean well because we don’t want to waste. But there are limits to how long we have to safely consume those leftovers (most of which are only good for a week or less).
Food Safety has actually laid out some really great charts that give a quick reference guide, and if you’re curious about something specific, check it out at StillTasty.com.
Nix these bad practices and you can confidently conquer the kitchen.
What tips would you add to this list?