Too many cooks in the kitchen can lead to a food safety disaster

Follow these simple food safety tips and avoid these common mistakes to help avoid foodborne illness.

With the holiday season upon us, the hustle and bustle in many kitchens will increase. People will be asking if they can help, and other distractions will lead to a food safety disaster unless you are organized and prepared.

Do follow these food safety practices:

  • Do wash hands frequently because foodborne illness is most often spread by unwashed hands. Hands and fingers are the ten dirtiest utensils in the kitchen. Michigan State University Extension recommends that you wash your hands for at least 20 seconds in warm soapy water. Most importantly, ask anyone who helps in the kitchen to do the same.
  • Do wash, rinse and sanitize kitchen equipment and utensils after each use. This will prevent the transfer of foodborne illness pathogens from one surface to another. Research has shown that e.Coli, salmonella, spp., yeast and mold like to hide in the crevices of common appliances like blenders, meat slicers and other kitchen equipment. Disassemble the appliances carefully, wash, rinse, sanitize and air dry them. Allow kitchen appliances to thoroughly dry before putting them away because mold loves to grow in dark warm locations.
  • Do remember to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Hot foods need to be kept in chafing dishes or crock pots where the temperature is at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold foods need to be kept cold such as nested in a bed of ice to keep the temperature below 40 degrees F.
  • Do use disposable paper towels to wipe hands dry. This will help prevent cross-contamination with foodborne illness bacteria from occurring. With paper towels the hands are dried and the paper towel is thrown away. But if a common dish towel is used to dry the hands, the towel becomes a breeding ground for whatever pathogen is present.

Don't make these common food safety mistakes:

  • Do not cook if you are ill. Coughing, sneezing and blowing your nose will transfer the virus to the food, where your guests will pick up the virus. To avoid spreading the virus, have someone else cook the food who is well. This could be either a family member, friend or caterer.
  • Do not use a dirty cutting board. Wash, rinse and sanitize the cutting board between use for each food product. Better yet, use a color-coded cutting board system to help avoid cross-contamination, such as a red cutting board for meat and a green cutting board for vegetables.
  • Do not allow perishable foods to remain at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • Do not wash chicken or turkey in the sink. Research has shown that washing the chicken or turkey in the sink will splash the salmonella, spp. bacteria all over the sink area contaminating everything around it and make the bacteria airborne as well. Remember to cook poultry to 165 degrees F. This is the only way to kill the salmonella, spp. bacteria.
  • Do not leave the dishcloth or sponge in the sink. Research has shown that of the dishcloths and sponges tested that were left in a sink, 75 percent of them contained coliform and fecal bacteria. Before putting the dishcloth or sponge to dry put them in a sanitizing solution. An alternative to the sanitizing solution is to take a fresh clean dishcloth or sponge each time one is needed.
  • Do not be guilty of double dipping with your finger or utensil. This habit spreads foodborne illness to all the guests at the party. Some cooks like to taste as they cook. This is fine provided you take a clean fresh spoon each time you taste the food you are cooking. 

Remember to follow the "Do’s" to have a safe foodborne illness-free holiday season. If someone wants to help in the kitchen, welcome the help, just lay down the food safety ground rules first. Avoiding the "Dont’s" will help keep you off the naughty foodborne illness list. No one likes spending the holidays being sick.  

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