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Kitchen Germs: How to Avoid Bacteria When Cooking

Quick tips to help keep bacteria and parasites out of your kitchen -- and your food.
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Step 2: Reduce Kitchen Germs at the Store

Before you get ready to whip up something tasty, try these tips to help keep bacteria at bay while you shop:

  • Meat: Wrap It Up: Put any meat you buy into a plastic bag before putting it in your cart. This keeps raw meat juices from dripping on the fresh foods in your grocery cart. 
  • Juice: Don't buy a bloated juice bottle. Bloating is usually a sign that at some point the juice hasn't been kept at the proper temperature and it's now spoiled. 
  • Produce: Some produce can become contaminated with salmonella, shigella, or E. coli during growing, harvesting, processing, storing, or shipping. It's particularly important that you wash your spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts, and melons before handling or cutting them. 
  • Canned Foods: You don't know where those cans have been, so wash the tops with hot soapy water before you open them. If you don't, whatever particles or bacteria linger on the lid will inevitably end up in the food as the lid dips down into the can contents during opening. 
  • Perishables: If you have perishable groceries and you will be in the car more than an hour, take a cooler along with some reusable ice blocks to keep the cold food cold until you can get it into the refrigerator or freezer.

Step 3: Kitchen Germs and Food Prep

There's no reason to be scared of kitchen germs. Instead, be informed, and develop safe food preparation habits.

  • Wash Your Hands: Unwashed hands are the most common cross-contamination agent between raw meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, unwashed vegetables and ready-to-eat foods, according to a study on food handling behaviors published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Wash your hands longer and more often than you think you should. Scrub hands together vigorously for at least 20 seconds with hot soapy water. It takes that long for the soap and scrubbing to remove some of the germs.

  • Cutting Boards: Invest in three colorful plastic cutting mats, with one color for each type of food. For example, designate a green mat for cutting fruits and vegetables, a white mat for cutting fish, and a red mat for cutting up red meat products. 
  • Raw Meat: Don't let raw meat bacteria travel to other food in the kitchen. Discourage cross-contamination by keeping the raw meat, and any kitchen tool that comes in contact with it, completely separate from all the other food. 
  • Defrosting and Marinating: Marinate meat in the refrigerator -- not on the counter at room temperature. And defrost food the same way: in the refrigerator. You can also defrost food under cold running water, or in the microwave oven on the defrost setting. 
  • Eggs: Eating uncooked eggs presents a risk for Salmonella Enteritidis. Eliminate the risk and kill the bacteria by cooking the egg or egg-containing foods, or use pasteurized eggs. Egg-substitute products that you buy in the store are generally pasteurized and therefore don't present a risk if consumed uncooked. 
  • Wash Produce: Wash all fruits and vegetables under running water before eating, cutting or cooking, unless they're packaged and marked "prewashed." Produce with a tough outer skin, like melons and cucumbers, can be scrubbed with a clean produce brush and warm soapy water before you cut into them -- just in case there is bacteria on the peel. 
  • Cook It Thoroughly: Finally, keep in mind that no matter what, thoroughly cooking food helps destroy the bacteria.
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