Germinating Better Habits
By Anna Sachse
According to the good ol’ FDA, a foodborne illness occurs when people eat or drink harmful microorganisms (bacteria, parasites, viruses) or chemical contaminants found in some foods or drinking water. Symptoms vary, but in general can include: stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, headache or body aches. There are 76 million cases of foodborne illness in the U.S. every year—more than 325,000 of those people end up in the hospital, and approximately 5,000 people die.
Seeing as we are talking about food safety here, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that most problems occur in the kitchen. You can’t do a whole lot about how the cooks and waiters handle your food at the restaurants you frequent, although you really should keep an eye out for that “A” grade posted near the door—as a long-time waitress I can tell you that even with an “A,” there’s a lot of nasty things going on in the kitchen, including the cooks sweating into your food, so a “B” grade means things are really bad. But you can certainly do a better job of cleaning up your own kitchen and food practices. Here are some tips from the American Dietetic Association:
1. Wash your hands often—front and back, between fingers, under fingernails—in warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after every step in preparing or eating foods. That includes your kitchen helpers, such as children.
2. Clean all work surfaces often to remove food particles and spills. Use hot, soapy water. Keep nonfood items—mail, newspapers, cell phones, iPods—off counters and away from food and utensils. Wash the counter carefully before and after food preparation.
3. Wash dishes and cookware in the dishwasher or in hot, soapy water, and always rinse them well. Remember that chipped plates and china can collect bacteria.
4. Change towels and dishcloths often and wash them in the hot cycle of your washing machine. Allow them to dry out between each use. If they are damp, they’re the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Throw out dirty sponges or sterilize them by rinsing the sponge and microwaving it for about two minutes while still wet. Be careful, the sponge will be hot.
5. Pay close attention to the refrigerator and the freezer—shelves, sides and door—where foods are stored. Pack perishables in coolers while you clean or defrost your refrigerator or freezer. Splatters inside your microwave can also collect bacteria, so keep it clean.
Other good tips include: keeping raw meat apart from foods that won’t be cooked, including using different cutting boards; keeping foods out of the “Danger Zone” i.e. an awesome song by Kenny Loggins as well as the range of temperatures at which bacteria can grow, usually between 40° F and 140° F; keep the fridge at 40° F or below, and the freezer at 0° F; and discard foods left out at room temperature for more than two hours.
I know it sounds like a lot of work, but once you’ve experienced barfing between your legs as you sit on the toilet with diarrhea, it may seem worth it. Happy eating!