March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Wash, separate, cook, refrigerate. It's the mantra of food safety. But how much attention do you pay to step number two? Separating is a key step in preventing food poisoning. When raw foods like meat, poultry, seafood and eggs come into contact with cooking surfaces, utensils and other foods, they can leave invisible bacteria behind, resulting in cross contamination.
Follow these seven simple separating tips, and cross contamination doesn't stand a chance:
1. At The Grocery Store – Wrap raw meat, poultry and seafood in plastic bags from the produce department to prevent juices from leaking onto other foods, and choose packaging that is well sealed and not leaking. Loading meat, seafood, poultry and eggs into the top basket of your shopping cart can keep their juices from leaking onto other foods. Then, at the register, place them in a different shopping bag or tote than other foods. While you're at it, pack frozen and refrigerated foods separately from room temperature foods. This helps keep cold foods chilled until you get home, and it simplifies unpacking too.
2. When Unloading Groceries – You may not realize it, but your produce drawer is one of the germiest places in your fridge. In addition to cleaning it weekly with soap and water, store fruits and vegetables in individual plastic bags to keep them safe from yeast, mold and microbes. If you normally wash produce when you get home from the supermarket, make sure to store it in fresh, clean bags instead of the original ones.
3. In The Fridge – Prevent juices from meat, poultry and seafood from leaking onto other foods by storing them on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator in individual plastic bags or in their own containers. Keep eggs in their original disposable carton on the shelves, instead of in the refrigerator door.
4. During Prep Time – Investing in two different cutting boards, one for produce and one for raw meat, poultry and seafood can go a long way in preventing cross contamination in your kitchen. Since grooves from old cutting boards can harbor bacteria, replace cutting boards as soon as they become worn.
5. When Marinating – Leftover marinades from grilled meat, chicken or fish can be swimming with bacteria, so be sure to toss the excess when you're done. If you want to brush marinade on cooked meat, set a small amount of the marinade aside before you add it to the raw meat. Then later, when you brush it on use a fresh, clean brush.
6. At The Stove – Stirring spoons, serving forks, slicing knives and plates used to hold raw food can be coated with bacteria. Be sure to replace or wash soiled utensils and plates as soon as they come into contact with raw food, and always serve cooked food on a clean plate.
7. On The Go – Cross contamination doesn't just happen in the kitchen. Lunch boxes and bento boxes can harbor bacteria too. Keep them clean by washing them with warm, soapy water after each use. And keep foods the proper temperature by using thermal containers and cold packs.