Mealtime Multitasking

Contributors: Esther Ellis, MS, RDN, LDN
talking on phone and cooking


"Multitasking" is a term that may have started in the workplace, but it has made its way to the kitchen — where more and more Americans say their busy lives require them to juggle too many things at once while eating and preparing food. Between work, practice, homework and chores, fitting in nutritious meals and snacks can seem quite challenging. Many parents find themselves multitasking in order to get everything done. While this may be a way to accomplish multiple tasks, there can be some serious safety risks if you're not paying attention.

Home cooks care for the kids and pets, watch television, wash dishes and talk on the phone while cooking. Since eliminating today's need to multitask can be virtually impossible, families need to incorporate proper home food safety habits into their daily routines in order to diminish the risk of food poisoning.

No matter how busy you are, from top to bottom, a clean kitchen is a main line of defense for your family and food poisoning. Be a smart multitasker: Eliminate the breeding grounds for dangerous bacteria.

1.Wash Your Hands Often

Wash your hands properly — front and back, between fingers, under fingernails — in warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds (or two choruses of "Happy Birthday") before and after every step in preparing or eating foods. That includes your kitchen helpers, such as children.

2. Keep Your Cool.

If you're bringing a packed lunch from home, store your food in a refrigerator or cooler with ice packs when you get to work. As many as six hours can pass between the time lunches are packed at home until they are eaten, which is a lot of time for bacteria to build up. Be the boss of your brown bag and make sure to store it in a refrigerator (set at or below 40°F) as soon as you get to work. Or, pack your lunch in an insulated lunch bag or cooler — and throw in a frozen ice pack to ensure the safety of perishable foods.

3. Make a Clean Break Between Tasks.

Cross-contamination can be a serious risk when multitasking but is easy to do when you're at home and trying to juggle tasks — such as washing dishes, talking on the phone or doing laundry. Hand-washing is the easiest way to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria, so take time to lather up between household chores.

4. Change Towels and Dishcloths Often

Wash towels and rags in the hot cycle of your washing machine and 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. Follow the Rules.

Eating while watching TV is a popular habit. Next time you roll out the TV tray for dinner, remember the two hour rule and make sure leftover food doesn't sit out of refrigeration for longer than two hours (in hot weather of 90°F or above, this time is reduced to one hour). For an easy reminder, set a kitchen timer before you sit down to eat.

6. Get the Right Tools for the Job.

Make sure you're fully equipped to cook foods safely. Keep a food thermometer handy so you can quickly check to make sure protein foods are cooked to a proper internal temperature. That's 145°F for fish, 160°F for ground beef and 165°F for poultry and casseroles.

7. Never Go in "Cold."

If leftovers are on the menu, make sure you reheat them to an internal temperature of 165°F to ensure their safety the second time around — whether you're heating them up in a microwave or in a conventional oven.

8. Keep Your Refrigerator, Freezer and Microwave Clean

Clean up spills immediate and make a deep clean a regular part of your routine. 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.

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