By: Cindy Baranoski MS, RDN, LDN
Bacteria and viruses are everywhere, all around us. They live in our bodies and on our bodies. Even our digestive and immune systems depend upon their presence to provide us with optimal health. While viruses create illnesses we all remember, bacteria are the culprits more often, bringing us foodborne illness or that nasty ‘stomach flu’. With bacteria the obvious places, such as the kitchen sink, bathroom, garbage can, are usually associated with ‘germs’ and the potential for some sort of illness. But bacteria are an invisible society living among us. Bacteria’s numbers are in the millions, and the types of bacteria we are exposed to can bring illness and health.
Wash your hands!
One of the easiest ways to prevent illness is to keep clean. Our hands, foods, kitchens, bathroom, anything we come into contact with in our world. If we simply wash our hands regularly, and not touch our eyes, noses, mouths, our chances of becoming infected by bacteria are significantly lessened.
The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a dedicated web page to washing hands, with clear instructions and tips such as:
- Wash hands before, during, and after preparing food
- Before eating food
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick
Keep your food and kitchen clean!
In kitchens, we have a ton of opportunities to come into contact with bacteria that can bring on an illness. With millions of bacteria found in the tiniest of places, imagine the size of your kitchen and just how many places are teeming with the little critters.
The Partnership for Food Safety Education at www.fightbac.org has a wonderful website loaded with helpful information on food safety. If you visit their site, you can find answers to many questions about the food you buy, prepare, eat, store, throw away and reheat. One of the most helpful sections of their site is The Core Four Practices. These are simple practices for food safety.
CLEAN – Wash hands and surfaces often
- Wash your hands with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food, using the bathroom, changing a diaper, or handling your pets. (Check out the hand washing guide from the CDC).
- Wash items in the kitchen – dishes, utensils, counter tops, cutting boards with hot soapy water, after you use an item and before you use it on something else.
- Use paper towels for clean up, or if you use cloth towels be sure to wash them on hot.
- Rinse all fruits and veggies under water. For those with firm skins, use a vegetable brush.
SEPARATE – Don’t cross-contaminate
- Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs from other foods in shopping cart and bags, as well as your refrigerator.
- Do not use the same cutting board for meat and fresh produce.
- Do not place cooked food on a plate that had raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs on it.
COOK – Cook foods to a safe internal temperature
- Use a thermometer to measure internal temperature when cooking meat, poultry and egg dishes.
- Cook roasts and steaks to no less than 145°F. Poultry to 165°F. Ground meat to 160 °F. Fish to 145 °F.
- Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm.
- Be sure there are no cold spots when cooking foods.
- Heat leftovers thoroughly to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
CHILL – Chill foods immediately
- Refrigerate foods quickly to 40°F or below. Use an appliance thermometer to be sure of the temperature. Freezers should be 0°F or below.
- Refrigerate foods as soon as you get home from the store.
- Never allow raw meat, poultry, eggs, cooked food or fresh fruits or veggies to sit at room temperature for longer than 2 hours. If the room is warm, then less than 1 hour sitting out. Do not defrost food at room temperature. Allow foods to thaw in the refrigerator. In a pinch you can use cold water or microwave for thawing, but these foods need to be cooked immediately.
- Marinate food in a refrigerator – and do not use marinate from raw meat, fish, poultry as a dipping sauce.
- Divide large quantities of foods into shallow containers to allow for faster cooling when storing foods, such as leftovers.
Watch this video from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) on keeping your refrigerator clean. Wiping the inside and outside down, cleaning the shelves and the front grill are as important as the counter tops you use to prepare foods. Going through your refrigerator often to toss outdated foods is something you should do on a regular basis. Know that foods have ‘use by’ dates which refers to food quality, and ‘expiration’ dates to know when to throw something away that is no longer consumable.
You can access more Home Food Safety resources at the AND website including:
- Apps like Is My Food Safe?
- Videos on how to wash fruits and vegetables
- Safety tips on Holiday cooking to raw milk or keeping lunch boxes clean,
- Food safety with hiking and camping, as well as keeping fruits fresh and reducing food waste are at this site as well.
Use common sense with foods and have respect for the fact that much of what we consume comes through a process where many people have been in contact with our food before we even purchase it. Who has picked the apple from the tree? Where did the chicken egg even come from? Who prepackaged your deli meats? Was the tomato you purchased ever rolling around the grocery store floor before you picked it off the shelf?
Certainly we don’t want to become so focused on cleanliness that we bring more harm than good to our bodies. Remember that millions of bacteria depend on our bodies for their home. When these bacteria are living in a symbiotic relationship with us, we have health. And when they have a good life, we do as well. But when the good bacteria are outnumbered by the bad bacteria, we have illness. An awareness to clean hands, foods and areas that support our mealtimes is great place to start.
For more information on Nutritional Therapy and scheduling an evaluation at Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley, visit our website: http://www.easterseals.com/dfv/our-programs/medical-rehabilitation/nutritional-therapy.html.