Maria is a master of public health, and a master gardener. She and her husband, known on as The Gardener & The Cook live in coastal Alabama.
When you're preparing food for your family and friends, you want them to enjoy your food and your company, but most of all you want your food to be safe. Food safety includes a lot more than may meet the eye.
As a public health educator, I may be more strict about food safety and cleanliness in my kitchen than the average person, but I am happy to be able to report that no one has ever gotten sick after eating at our table. Not only do we both wipe down the food prep surfaces with a disinfectant before food prep begins, I consider things such as the proper handling of raw eggs and raw meat, the careful washing of food to be consumed raw, and the cooking temperature, as well as serving temperature of foods.
In this article, you will find a series of myths debunked, as well as some of my tips about keeping a safe kitchen. You may be surprised at what you find. For example: Does hot water kill germs? Is there really a five-second rule?
Old Wives' Tales Or Simple Lack of Information?
There are many myths that we've heard all our lives. These myths range from old wives' tales to a simple lack of understanding of the chemical reactions taking place. Don't believe me? I'm not surprised.
My own parents wouldn't believe me about some of these, even after I had that master's degree in public health in my hot little hands. For example, they continued to put grilled meat back onto the plate they had used to carry the raw meat out to the grill. That’s a huge food-safety issue.
Myth #1: The Five-Second Rule
Sorry to burst your bubble, but there is no such thing as a five-second rule. If you wouldn't eat it off the bottom of your shoe, don't eat it off the floor or the ground. On the other hand, if you just now mopped your floor, and no one has walked on it yet, including pets... well, you be the judge.
After studying public health education, then teaching it, I learned so much and I continue to learn. Below, I share some of the most common misconceptions about food safety. Many of them may seem to be common sense, but many people do not follow these simple, easy practices.
Myth #2: Hot Water Kills Germs
Here's the truth about hot water and germs: when you wash something, you are not killing germs, you are removing them. The germs, (bacteria, viruses, everyday dirt, etc.) are suspended in solution in the warm soapy water, then washed down the drain.
Picture the germs as being trapped in the soapy water — hot or warm water helps soap do its job of removing germs and “trapping” them.
Of course, if you are using a good anti-bacterial soap, you ARE killing bacteria, but ONLY bacteria. Not viruses. For viruses you need an anti-viral agent. Any viruses, along with other bad things, will be removed by the soapy water along with any “benign” dirt that may be present, assuming you do a good job of washing.
Myth #3: There Is No Need to Wash Produce Before Peeling It
If fruit and vegetables are not washed before you cut into them, any bacteria, pesticides, herbicides, etc., on the outside will be transferred to your hands, then to the part you plan to eat, thus contaminating your food. This could lead only to a mild case of diarrhea, or it could lead to a serious case of salmonella or E. coli.
Why take a chance? Wash your fruits and veggies before you peel them. This is especially important with apples if you plan to eat the peel, too.
Why Are Apples Different?
Commercial growers coat apples with wax. It makes them pretty and shiny. It also traps whatever may be on the peeling underneath the wax. This makes it necessary to wash waxed apples in warm water to remove the wax. Either do this — or don't eat the apple peel.
Myth #4: Sponges Are Fine for Washing Dishes
Here's the low-down on sponges. They are great for washing the car, or smoothing newly applied wallpaper, and other things of that nature.
When it comes to the kitchen, however, please trash the sponges. They grow and hold bacteria like crazy. Use a dishcloth, and change it daily, or at least every other day.
Myth #5: It's Okay to Rinse Out the Coffee Pot Without Washing it
The brown build-up you sometimes see inside a clear coffee carafe is organic material which does grow bacteria. My dad always said, “Real coffee drinkers don’t wash the pot. They just rinse it out.”
Yes, of course it’s okay to rinse it out and make another pot sometimes, but wash the pot or carafe daily with soap and warm water — and, yes, boys, wash the handle, too. Do you remember where your fingers were just before you picked up that carafe? Didn’t think so. Wash the handle.
Myth #6: Breaking Several Eggs Into A Bowl Is Fine
If several eggs are broken into a bowl and that last one is bad, then all are contaminated. For this reason, what I do when working with multiple eggs, is to break one egg into a measuring cup or mixing bowl. The next egg, I break into a separate small bowl, as shown in the photo below. If that egg is okay, I then pour it in with the first egg. I continue doing this until all the eggs have been opened, checked, then added to the others. Only then do I beat them, and cook them or add them to the other ingredients for a recipe.
In all my years of cooking, I have found only one egg that was rotten, and only two eggs that contained blood, but you never know when this will happen. It would be a shame to have to throw out a bowl of eggs because of one bad egg.
These days, most commercial egg producers wash their eggs before sending them to market. One precaution I take with eggs, however, is to wash them well in warm soapy water before cracking them open. This should remove any fecal matter and other bacteria that could be on the outside of the eggshell. This is especially important if you have your own chickens, or if you are using fresh eggs from a non-large scale company.
Myth 7: It's Fine To Put A Large Pot of Hot Food Into The Fridge
When storing large quantities of very hot foods in your fridge or freezer, it is important to transfer it into smaller containers first (enough for two to four people). When cooking a large stockpot of chili or soup, It can be tempting to put the whole stockpot into the fridge, especially if you are rushed or are tired, and want to get out of the kitchen. However, with such large amounts, the portion in the center of the pot does not cool fast enough, and bacteria can begin to grow.
Good Practices for Food Safety and a Safe Kitchen
- Change dishwashing cloths and dish towels daily, or at least, every other day.
- Wash your hands frequently, especially if handling foods that will not be cooked.
- Always wash fruits and veggies, even if you plan to peel them.
- Scrub your kitchen sink at least every other day. Come on, it takes only about two minutes.
- Sanitize your countertops and sink immediately after handling raw meats.
© 2021 MariaMontgomery