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.
Handling foods safely is much more than throwing away expired milk or washing your fruits and vegetables. While these actions are important, there are several more common food safety mistakes that can result in major consequences.
Don't be one of the 48 million Americans sickened by food poisoning each year. Avoid these 10 common yet dangerous food safety mistakes.
- Mistake #1: Tasting food to see if it's still good
Never taste your food to check if it has spoiled. You can't taste, see or even smell the bacteria that causes food poisoning, and tasting just a tiny bit of contaminated food can cause serious illness. Throw away all expired food before harmful bacteria grows.
- Mistake #2: Putting cooked or ready-to-eat foods back on a plate that held raw meat
Never let raw meat, poultry or seafood touch cooked meat or any ready-to-eat foods, as this can cause cross-contamination. Foodborne pathogens from the raw meat can easily spread to ready-to-eat foods and cause food poisoning. Always use separate plates, cutting boards and utensils to keep raw meats, poultry and seafood separate from ready-to-eat foods.
- Mistake #3: Thawing food on the counter
Never thaw food on the counter. Harmful foodborne pathogens multiply rapidly when foods are in the danger zone between 40°F and 140°F. Instead, always thaw foods in the refrigerator, cold water or in the microwave.
- Mistake #4: Washing meat or poultry
Never wash raw meat or poultry because the water can easily spread bacteria to your sink, countertops and other kitchen surfaces. Only wash raw fruits and vegetables. Learn more about washing produce.
- Mistake #5: Letting food cool before putting it in the fridge
Don't leave food out of the refrigerator for more than two hours or one hour if it is over 90°F outside. Illness-causing bacteria can grow rapidly when perishable foods are left in the danger zone — between 40°F and 140°F. Always refrigerate foods in a timely matter. If you are on a road trip, tailgating or picnicking, pack perishable foods in a well-insulated cooler.
- Mistake #6: Eating raw cookie dough (and other foods containing uncooked eggs)
Never eat any raw eggs because they may contain Salmonella or other harmful bacteria. Instead, cook eggs thoroughly and avoid foods that contain raw or undercooked eggs.
- Mistake #7: Marinating meat or seafood on the counter. Using raw meat marinade on cooked food.
Never marinate meat, poultry or seafood on the counter or use the same marinade for raw meat and cooked food. If you marinate on the counter, harmful germs can multiple rapidly when in the danger zone — between 40°F and 140°F. In addition, if you use the same marinade on raw and cooked meats, the harmful bacteria from the raw food can spread to the cooked food. Always marinate raw meat, seafood and poultry in the refrigerator and only reuse marinade if you bring it to a boil just before using.
- Mistake #8: Undercooking meat, poultry, seafood or eggs
Cooked food is safe only after it's been heated to a high enough internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria. In order to avoid eating undercooked foods, you must use a food thermometer — the only way to determine if cooked foods are safe to eat. Do not rely on sight, smell or taste to tell whether your food is done.
- Mistake #9: Not washing your hands
Illness-causing bacteria can survive in many places — including on your hands. Always wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm, running water before and after handling food.
- Mistake #10: Not replacing sponges and dish rags
Ironically, sponges and dishrags are some of the dirtiest tools in your kitchen. Sponges and dishrags can hold harmful foodborne pathogens and cause a serious health risk. Always sanitize your sponges at least every other day and replace them every week or two for best protection against germs. Here is more information on sponge safety and how to sanitize your sponge.