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How Healthy Is Your Kitchen?

Feb 29, 2008
Cooking for your family is a great goal, but keeping an appropriately clean kitchen can take some effort. Some habits you may not even realize you have can result in the contamination of the food you prepare.

1. Wash your hands.

Not just at the start of food preparation. Wash them often. When you finish handling raw meat, wash your hands. Working with a new part of the meal, wash your hands.

Obviously, the meat to vegetable or other side dish is the best known form of cross contamination, but it's not the only one. And it's also important to be sure that you have clean hands before and after handling things that don't often get washed. What's really on the outside of the containers in your spice rack?

2. Wash produce immediately before preparing.

This is the best time to wash your produce. Excess dampness can cause stored foods to grow molds and such. Washing it right before you prepare it removes these as well as other residues.

3. Think about what you clean your kitchen with.

It's not just the classic case of all the germs on your sponges, although that can be quite a problem. Some people sterilize their sponges by dampening them, and then microwaving for about 2 minutes. This kills pretty much all the germs.

But I also think it's important to consider what you're cleaning with. If you clean with any chemicals that leave a residue, this can get into your food. It's generally a very small thing, but there nonetheless.

My own favorite cleaner is white vinegar. It's acidic enough to kill most bacteria, germs and mold, yet obviously safe enough to consume. Baking soda also helps, reacts nicely with vinegar, and provides that bit of scrubbing power the kitchen sometimes needs.

4. Keep your kitchen clean as you go... carefully.

Cleaning as you go not only makes the after-meal cleanup easier, it can help with food safety. Provided, that is, you clean safely.

This is one of those areas where it's easy to cross contaminate. If you're using the same towel or sponge to give a surface a quick wipe down, you may just be mixing up the germs. Or if you use the same towel to do the wipe downs as you do to dry dishes after washing them, you're just spreading things around.

5. Consider using more than one cutting board.

I always use a different cutting board for meat and other foods. This way I know that I'm not getting any of the juices from the meat on foods that won't be cooked at a high enough temperature for long enough to kill anything the juices might bring along.

It's pretty easy to have a selection of cutting boards ready. You can get the thin, cheap plastic ones if you like, or get a few nicer ones that will last longer. Bamboo has been gaining in popularity all around the house.

This makes it easier to keep going with the cooking; you can clean the cutting boards at the very end.

6. Put leftovers away promptly.

The rule of thumb is within two hours. It can be amazing how fast that much time can go by, especially if you just get to talking after a meal.

But do your best to let them cool down some before putting them in the fridge, to avoid temporarily warming the other foods there or straining the motor. Remove them from heat, and place in shallow containers to allow them to cool more easily.

There are several other ways you can be more healthy in your kitchen, such as checking your refrigerator and freezer temperatures, and using a meat thermometer rather than just looking at the meat, but these are some of the important ones that it can be easy to skimp on.
About the Author
Stephanie Foster blogs at http://www.makehealthymeals.com/ about preparing healthy meals for your family. Get more healthy recipes at her site.
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