Six Tips to Keep You Safe and Savvy in the Kitch
When you think about kitchen safety, your mind may jump to burns and cuts, and while those certainly are serious, I want to share some insights that will help keep you safe. Prep, storage
My Top 6 Kitchen Safety Tips
1. Clean Up
Ensure your foods and surfaces are free of germs, pesticides & toxic chemicals by using natural cleaning products. Bacteria and viruses can live on surfaces for a surprisingly long time: Research shows that Salmonella and Campylobacter survive for short periods of around 1 to 4 hours on hard surfaces or fabrics. Norovirus and C. difficile, however, can survive for much longer. In one study, C. difficile was shown to survive for 5 months. Norovirus can survive for days or weeks on hard surfaces!
Washing fruits and veggies before you eat them not only takes care of surface dirt and
E. coli doesn’t just sit around on the surface of vegetables, either. The bacteria can also penetrate into the interior tissues of the plant, where nothing can reach them.
So, the bottom line is that you can and should wash your produce… but there are some things that even washing won’t fix. Good growing practices, transportation
Hand washing is also key to safe and healthy cooking! Washing with soap and water for 15-30 seconds should remove 90-100% of any bacteria and dirt on your hands. Be sure to lather up AND use a rubbing/scrubbing motion on your palms, top of your hand, between fingers and under your finger nails. The physical action of washing is as necessary as the soap, so think of good hand washing as a coordinated effort between soap and action! In a pinch, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can help you kill pathogens on your skin… but hand washing is always preferred!
As far as surfaces and produce, this is what I do:
- I like this spray for counters but I also make my own counter cleaner with raw apple cider vinegar and hydrogen peroxide.
- I use this wash to get my produce clean and free of waxes and pesticides. I rinse with this or soak hard-skinned fruits & vegetables in a bowl of cool water to which I’ve added a splash of raw apple cider vinegar and some baking soda.
2. Choose Safe Materials
Cutting boards come in various materials and in many cute shapes and sizes. Use the wrong material, though, and you risk getting sick. Therefore, let’s talk about what materials make for safe cutting boards. BPA free plastics are one option, and there are companies that make cute colored ones that are popular. I prefer tempered glass and while some people may wonder about durability, I’ll tell ya that my favorite board was a wedding gift almost 22 years ago! Go glass, I say! It’s eco-friendly to boot! Wood is my second choice. Bamboo is a renewable and sustainable option. I like olive wood and maple boards too for veggies, fruits, nuts and grains.
3. Respect Raw
Raw, whole foods should be a part of every healthy diet. With a little know-how, you can ensure that what you’re eating is as safe and healthy as it can be!
According to the Virginia Cooperative Extension, “Once microorganisms contaminate fresh produce, they are difficult to wash off. Therefore, it is important to prevent contamination in the first place! Washing (with clean running water) can reduce the number of bacteria on produce by 99 percent; however, this does not guarantee that no pathogens are present. Pathogens, even at low numbers, can still cause illness. Using proper temperature control and cleaning and sanitation practices can reduce your risk of foodborne illness.” (source: https://www.pubs.ext.vt.edu/content/dam/pubs_ext_vt_edu/FST/FST-234/FST-234-PDF.pdf)
Raw meats and seafood:
Meat and seafood should be wrapped separately and transported home from the market in it’s own bag. Once home, keep one shelf or one set of storage containers specifically for your raw meats and seafood. While I am plant-based, my family enjoys some animal protein, so I am careful to follow this rule — lots of fresh veggies, greens and fruits go through our fridge so I need to be sure that it’s a safe, clean environment.
- Do not wash produce until you are ready to eat it. Washing and then refrigerating adds moisture that can cause the produce to rot or harbor bacteria.
- Refrigerate perishable produce (such as strawberries, leafy greens, precut and ready-to-eat bagged produce, etc.) in a clean refrigerator at 41 F or below to maintain quality and safety.
- Discard produce if it has not been refrigerated within four hours after cutting, peeling, or
- Store raw produce on shelves or in bins above meats, poultry, and seafood to reduce the risk of cross-contamination from dripping juices.
- To maintain freshness and quality, place your produce in perforated bags when refrigerating. These cotton mesh ones are what I use (they wash beautifully and last!)
- Store produce that does not require refrigeration on a clean countertop or in a cupboard or pantry out of direct sunlight. Farmer’s Almanac created a list of foods that don’t need to be in the fridge — read it here.
- Separate the produce that releases ethylene gas during ripening (such as apples, pears, bananas, and mangoes) from other produce to extend its shelf life by preventing premature spoilage. This can be done by placing it in a separate refrigerator bin or by storing those fruits in “green bags” or “green bins” like these…
Tip: I bring a cooler that has a couple of big frozen ice packs in it when I go to the market in the summer. Makes it easy to store perishable foods for the trip home while keeping them cold.
4. Take Care of Leftovers
- Refrigerate or Freeze Leftovers Promptly — to reduce the chance of bacteria growing, get your leftovers into the fridge or freezer within two hours of preparation (or one hour on days over 90º F). Any perishable foods sitting out at room temperature for longer than two hours should be discarded.
- Reduce Temperature of Hot Foods Quickly — this discourages bacterial growth. To speed the cooling process, separate large quantities of leftovers into smaller containers. It is okay to place hot leftovers directly into a properly operating refrigerator, provided large quantities have been divided into shallow containers for quicker cooling. Leave hot foods partially uncovered while cooling, and then cover them completely once they reach 40º F or freeze.
- Reheating — When reheating leftovers, get the internal temperature to at least 165º F before eating it. If using a microwave, stir the food periodically to help promote even reheating. Frozen leftovers can be thawed in the refrigerator for reheating later. You can also use a microwave to thaw frozen leftovers if the food will be consumed right away.
- 3-day/3-month rule — If you haven’t eaten your refrigerated leftovers within 3 days, toss them. For frozen leftovers, 3 months is the general rule of thumb.
5. Stay Sharp!
When my dad was teaching me how to cook, one of the first lessons was knife safety and knife care. Respect is the name of the game with a knife. I recommend having these knives (I use the first 3 regularly, but you may want the 4th!):
1. Chef’s Knife (8” or 10″ — or both) — this is what I use for most prep work.
2. Paring Knife (3”) — perfect for small jobs like hulling and slicing a strawberry, or peeling an apple. It’s also a good knife to have children use when they first start learning to work with knives – it allows their little hands to have more control.
This set of 4 utility paring knives will fast become your favorite in the kitchen!
3. Long Serrated Bread Knife — um… perfect for slicing bread… and exceptional for slicing tomatoes! This one is light-weight and durable.
4. Slicing/Carving Knife (10”) — this is the one that I have but don’t use much. If you cook meats, you will want this as it slices and carves better than the others.
- Once you have your knives, you’ll need to learn how and when to sharpen them. If you’re like me, it helps to have a visual, so check out this wonderful tutorial done by Cook’s Illustrated: https://www.cooksillustrated.com/articles/218-how-to-sharpen-kitchen-knives
I hope my Six Tips to Keep You Safe and Savvy in the Kitch help you enjoy season after season of safe, satisfying kitchen time.
Healthy happens here… healthy food choices, healthy connections… it’s all self-care when you boil it down.
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