Millions of people experience food poisoning every year. Symptoms can range from vomiting and diarrhoea to life-threatening symptoms such as a high fever.
While most of us are quick to blame that takeout meal we had, most cases of food poisoning are the result of bad home kitchen habits. If you’re not careful how you store and handle food or if you neglect certain cleaning tasks, you can increase the risk of food and utensils getting contaminated by bacteria.
Below are a few common bad kitchen habits that many of us are guilty of and how they could be putting you at risk of getting ill.
Not regularly washing your hands while cooking
Throughout the day, our hands get exposed to all kinds of germs. It therefore makes sense to wash hands before handling any food. However, this isn’t the only time you should wash your hands while cooking. It’s worth washing your hands between handling different foods – particularly raw meats – to reduce cross-contamination.
Wash your hands with water and soap. It could be worth installing an automatic soap dispenser near your sink to encourage a clean environment – there are many benefits of an automatic soap dispenser such as not having to touch anything to dispense the soap (the button on a manual dispenser could become a bacteria breeding ground).
This is a controversial one. There are many foods that you can use well beyond their used-by-date without getting ill – food producers simply put them on the packaging to be extra cautious. However, there are other foods that really do become a health hazard if you exceed the used by date such as meats, dairy products and cold pressed juices that are not pasteurised. When it comes to these latter foods, it’s a good idea to trust the label.
Most foods will also tell you to use a food in a certain amount of days after being opened. This is something many of us ignore, but it can be very risky with things like sauces and dairy products which may have become exposed to large amounts of bacteria once the seal is broken. Check those opened jars and bottles to make sure that they’re still okay to use.
Waiting too long to eat leftovers
It’s good to make use of those leftovers rather than just throwing them away. Typically, if you’re refrigerating them and eating them the next day, there are unlikely to be any problems. However, you should be careful of leaving leftovers in the fridge for too long before eating them again. Foods like leftover meats can spoil in a matter of days. If you really want to extend their life, seal them and freeze them.
Leaving exposed foods out unrefrigerated for too long
Forgot to put that kebab in the fridge from last night and wondering whether you can still reheat it and eat it? You should be very careful of eating exposed foods that haven’t been refrigerated for long periods. While some foods like a banana in a bowl will easily keep for a few days, foods like meats and heat-susceptible fruits like berries need to be stored in the fridge to stop them decomposing. On a warm day or warm night, these exposed foods can also attract flies and ants. Store such foods in the fridge to avoid this.
Not covering up opened foods when storing in the fridge
Opened foods typically need to be resealed even when refrigerated to prevent them from going off as quickly. Something that may be safe to consume within 2 days when resealed may go off in a single day if not sealed. Any mold spores and bacteria can then quickly spread throughout your fridge to other exposed foods. To prevent this, always put the lid back on or use cling film or tin foil to cover up foods.
Continuously reheating foods
There’s no rule as to how many times you can reheat food. However, it’s best to reheat food as few times as possible if you really want to avoid food poisoning. Every time you reheat food and then let it cool to room temperature again, you encourage bacteria growth. This is why it’s better to take the portion you need and reheat this, rather than reheating the whole thing (if you’ve got a large container of homemade soup in the fridge, don’t reheat the whole thing each time you want a bowl of soup – just pour out the amount you need for a single bowl and reheat this).
Some foods are very prone to bacteria growth after reheating such as chicken, eggs, seafood and rice. Avoid reheating these foods if you can, and if you do have to reheat them, make sure that they haven’t been left at room temperature for too long.
Rarely cleaning your fridge
When was the last time you cleaned the inside of your fridge? While it’s not a pleasant job, it’s something you should do every few months. Spillages and leakages can often occur in refrigerators and over time these can start to attract bacteria and mold. Any exposed foods in your fridge are then at risk of being contaminated.
Every three to four months, fully unpack your fridge and then wipe down all surfaces. It could be worth taking out trays so that you can remove any hidden grime.
Washing raw chicken in the sink
We’re taught to always wash foods before cooking them to get rid of any contaminants on the surface. However, with meats, running water over the surface is often ineffective at getting rid of any bacteria. It can also be a contamination risk – particularly when it comes to raw chicken.
How is washing raw chicken a danger? When you wash it, water splashes off the chicken and can go all over your kitchen, carrying salmonella with it. This could mean salmonella all over any clean plates and cutlery in the washing up rack. All in all, it’s better to simply throw chicken directly in a pan and kill off all the bacteria with heat rather than trying to wash it off.
Rarely cleaning your sink
If you wash plates and crockery directly in your sink, it could be important to regularly scrub out the surfaces of your sink before pouring hot water in. Many of us think that because our sink always gets wet and because it doesn’t look dirty, it is therefore clean. However, bacteria can cling onto the surfaces unless you scrub it off. Run a soapy wet sponge over the inside of your sink every day. The area around the plughole where food can collect could be particularly dirty, so give this a good scrub.
Using the same chopping board for everything
Another common mistake is using the same chopping board for everything. Chopping raw meats on a board and then chopping vegetables on that same board is a contamination risk (unless you clean the board in between). This can be particularly dangerous with meats like chicken.
Consider buying yourself different boards so that you can keep different foods separate and prevent contamination. It’s popular in commercial kitchens to use a set of different colored boards for different types of foods. Such boards can be bought for domestic use too. Consider also using different knives, or cleaning the knife between foods. Cutting vegetables before meats is a good habit to get into that can prevent contamination.