Food prep tips to prevent sickness

In May, an e.coli outbreak from romaine lettuce caused people across the country to become sick.

E.coli is not something you can wash off your food, but other foodborne illnesses can be prevented through proper preparation.

The first step in cooking seems simple but is often overlooked.

Wash your hands. "Washing hands is probably the most important step anyone can take to keep food from getting contaminated," said Marilyn Tapia, the Director of Health Protection at Riverstone Health.

And don't use a dirty dish towel to dry your hands!

This will re-contaminate them. "You also want to be sure that you're cleaning your food before you prepare it," Tapia said. "So you should always wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly with cold water. But don't wash chicken and fish and seafood."

Clean, cold water is all you need to wash fruits and veggies...there's no need to use soaps or vegetable washes.

So what are some of the things you're washing off when you're washing your fruits and veggies?

"You're washing off dirt and debris, you're washing off some things that somebody else may have put on there with their hands," Tapia said. "If you're trying to wash off something like e.coli, you may not be washing all of it off but you might be washing some of it off, which is going to help."

Another way to avoid cross-contamination, anything that touches raw meat including cutting boards and utensils should never touch other food items.

You can, however, share knives and cutting boards between raw fruits and veggies.

So you're done cooking, now it's time to store your leftovers.

Even in this step, you have to be conscious of growing bacteria.

"You want to cool food down as quickly as possible and there's a couple of ways to do that," Tapia said. "One is to divide them into smaller containers so there's less material in one container and put it in the fridge right away. Another one is to spread them out on a thin layer like on a cookie sheet or a baking pan then put them in the refrigerator."

The reason for this is to avoid what's called the "temperature danger zone."

This is the temperature where bacteria grows rapidly, which is anything above 40 degrees, up to 135 degrees.

So you want to cool foods through this zone quickly."It's best not to thaw food on the counter either." Tapia said. "So you want to thaw foods by taking them from the freezer and letting them thaw for a period of time in the refrigerator."

Or if you're in a rush... "You can put it under running water in the sink and let it thaw that way."

Once your food is cooked and stored properly, you must clean up and sanitize you r cooking utensils and cooking area.

So what's the best tool for the job? "Sponges are extremely dirty and they harbor bacteria," Tapia said. "You hear recommendations all the time about putting them in the dishwasher periodically or put them in the microwave and microwave them to kill the bacteria. And studies have shown that's not effective. So sponges are not the best thing to use in the kitchen."

So what is the best thing that we can keep that effectively cleans and washes our dishes but also is not so dirty? "The best thing to use when we wash our dishes is a clean dishcloth," Tapia said.

For more food handling tips click here.

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