The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that there are over 76 million cases of food borne illnesses in the US every year. Symptoms rage from mild to extremely severe. Most people recover in a day or two, but 5000 people every year die from contaminated food, according to the CDC’s national statistics. The vast majority of cross-contaminations can be avoided by following a few precautionary measures.
Raw meat is the most dangerous ingredient that most kitchens contain. When storing in the fridge, place meat on the lowest shelf to prevent drips and spills. Place meat in a bag or on a plate for further protection. Every kitchen should have two cutting boards, one for raw meat and one for ready-to-eat foods. Any surface, plate, cutting board, or utensil that comes in contact with raw meat should be disinfected. This can be achieved by soaking the item in distilled vinegar for fifteen minutes before washing with detergent and water. Any sponge used to clean raw juices must be discarded immediately after use. Do not rinse meat before cooking. The bacteria will be killed during the cooking process and the water that splashes off the food can contaminate the surrounding area.
Scrub and wash vegetables prior to cutting. This removes any pesticides or other contaminants that may be on the food. If you are preparing lettuce or cabbage, wash thoroughly and remove the outer layers. If preparing loose greens, like spinach, soak in a vegetable wash for the manufacturer’s recommended amount of time.
Hand washing is the single biggest preventative when it comes to cross-contamination. Wash hands with hot, soapy water for at least twenty seconds. Wash half-way up the forearm. Use this procedure before beginning food preparation, after touching raw meat or eggs, or any time after using the restroom. Use a paper towel, or clean dry hand towel to dry hands. If you use a towel, replace with a clean one immediately. Plastic gloves can be used for further protection.
Using these procedures will lessen your chance of joining the millions of people that are infected with food borne germs every year. Hand washing, proper meat handling, and washing your vegetables before preparation will protect you from preventable contamination. It will also save you the embarrassment of being the one that got others sick.