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Common Kitchen Mistakes We Make

How do you know for sure if you're practicing safe habits in the kitchen? Is washing your hands enough? Sure, it's common sense to wash your hands before you cook.

However, chances are some harmless habits may be putting you and your family at risk, Shape Magazine's editor-at-large Bahar Takhtehchian stopped by the PIX11 Studio to talk about some common mistakes we might be making in the kitchen.

Mistake #1Abiding by the "Five-Second Rule"

Why it's bad:You dropped a chip on the floor, and now you want to eat it. Don't do it! Researchers say it's not safe to follow the five-second rule. Why? When you drop something, it gets contaminated with bacteria almost immediately. In some cases you can try to rinse the item off with water, but it's not recommended. While this will reduce some of the bacteria, it won't completely clean the item. And while it's true that exposing yourself to some germs can help strengthen your immune system, researchers say exercise, sleep, and good lifestyle habits are all much safer and more effective ways to amp up your immunity.

Mistake #2Keeping dried foods (such as rice and cereal) in their original packaging

Why it's bad:When you keep cereal and rice in its original packaging once you open it, not only do you run the risk of making the food go stale, but you also increase your chances of allowing bugs and critters (think beetles and weevils) to infest your food. These bugs get into your home by either coming in through the windows, vents, and outdoors, or some times come into your home from the outside (i.e.: the bugs come from the factory or warehouse where the food was processed, the store where it was sold, via delivery truck) etc. These bugs can appear any time of year, but they like the warm weather, so they're very common in the summer months. By putting your grains, cereals, etc in air-tight glass jars or plastic containers, you can keep the items tightly sealed and prevent infestation. If you use plastic containers, make sure you buy containers that are made from food-grade plastic. Look for the NSF International seal. If you already have a pest problem in your pantry, try to find the source of infestation-otherwise you will not be able to stop the bugs from appearing in your food supply. Once you locate the bugs, throw out the food, vacuum, and clean the cupboard.

Mistake #3Letting your four-legged friend hang out in the kitchen

Why it's bad:You may want your puppy to keep you company while you cook, but it's not healthy for your or your family. Your dog or cat's paws carry a lot of germs and bacteria so when you feed them or pet them while you're cooking or eating, you risk contaminating your own hands with feces, germs, urine, salmonella, or more. Dogs also carry a lot of bacteria in their mouths and sometimes this can cause the stomach flu in humans. Also, cats have a tendency to climb on top of countertops or hang out in high spaces. Not only does this risk you getting fur and dander inside your food, but this also makes it easy for the cat to spread its germs all over your kitchen.

Mistake #4Using old sponges

Why it's bad:Sponges attract and retain disease-causing bacteria. Aside from replacing them as often as you can, also make sure you dry them regularly and properly. Why? Damp sponges breed bacteria which then can spread to your dishes, kitchen surfaces, etc. To be super safe, wash your sponge with antibacterial soap after each use and wring it out so it dries properly. Also, dry it in an upright sponge holder-this allows both sides to air-dry evenly. It's also a good idea to sanitize your sponge by putting it in the microwave (make sure it's wet) for about 30 seconds or by putting it in the dishwasher. Try doing this every other day if possible.

Mistake #5Washing chicken before you cook it

By washing chicken you risk spreading juices and contaminants all over your sink, dishes, kitchen surfaces, etc. Instead, open the package of chicken, dry the juices with a paper towel, and start cooking. Just make sure the internal temp of your chicken reaches 165 degrees. Still not convinced this is safe? Chicken companies do their best to clean the chicken before they package it, so feel good about not washing the chicken. Also, know that any of the germs that remain will be killed off by the heat of the oven or stove anyway.

Mistake #6Using every last inch of open space in the fridge

Yes, going to the grocery store once a week saves you time and effort, but it's not always a safe practice. In order for your fridge to work properly and for your food to stay safe, you need to make sure the cool air is circulating properly.As a rule, leave some space between items so the cool air spreads around. Freezers, however, can and should be stuffed as much as possible. In fact, a freezer cools more efficiently. Also important to note: the vitamins and minerals in fruits and vegetables begin to diminish the moment they're harvested, meaning the longer you store produce, the fewer nutrients it will contain. So try to buy smaller batches of the fresh stuff. By shopping at least twice a week, you can rest assured that you'll be eating healthy, fresh foods.

Mistake #7Drying your hands with a towel

Why it's bad:You already know to wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds. But when it's time to dry them, don't reach for a towel! To be super clean and safe, use a new paper towel every time. Chances are your kitchen towels have been used to wipe up food spills, which means they're likely harboring germs and bacteria.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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