As we continue the discussion of World Food Safety Day, we turn our attention to another cornerstone of basic food safety practices: SEPARATE.
As a quick recap, the four elements to basic food safety are: CLEAN, SEPARATE, COOK and CHILL. We keep SEPARATE any contaminated foods and items as we prepare our meals to reduce—or eliminate—the possibility of spreading illness-causing bacteria, a process known as cross-contamination.
Cross-contamination can occur anywhere where food is prepared. And it can happen in a variety of ways. Many times, it can occur via cutting boards, such as cutting raw meats on a board and then using the same unwashed, non-sanitized board to cut other food items. Other times, it happens when “sharing” kitchen utensils, like knives, spoons, and plates across food items. Used sponges and dishcloths can lead to cross-contamination. And, of course, you can contaminate items with your hands.
We don’t mean to transfer a food pathogen, of course. So, being aware of how you handle your equipment and following proper hand washing will lower the risk of cross-contamination.
Let’s break down each item.
A couple of things to keep in mind. First, have and use at least two SEPARATE cutting boards. If you can, purchase the boards in different colors, and/or mark them to avoid confusion. Use one cutting board for raw meats, fish and poultry, and another cutting board for fresh fruits and vegetables.
Select cutting boards that are easy to clean. Purchase boards that are smooth and free of crevices and cracks. Acrylic, marble and plastic are all good surfaces. Stay away from boards that are porous and soft. Also, if you have been using a cutting board for years and it’s worn with knife scars, discard it. Those nooks and crannies can harbor a food pathogen.
To properly clean your cutting boards, rinsing and wiping with paper towels is not enough to rid of any bacteria from raw meats and poultry. SEPARATE here also means that after each use, even something as seemingly harmless as chopping a fresh tomota, wash your cutting board in hot, soapy water, fully rinse it, and dry well. If you prefer, you can use the dishwasher with this step.
Remember, though, cleaning and sanitizing are two separate processes.
To sanitize your cutting board(s), use a mixture of chlorine bleach to water after each use. Don’t indiscriminately pour bleach onto your board! Instead, mix 1 tablespoon of liquid, unscented bleach with a gallon of water, spray or disperse that solution onto your board(s), and then let it set for a while to do its job. Then, use a firm brush to get into any grooves. After, wash the board(s) in hot, soapy water and rinse, then air dry.
SEPARATE by not using the same knife and spoon to do everything, unless you clean each utensil with hot, soapy water between uses. The point here is that you don’t want to use a knife to cut raw chicken into pieces and then begin chopping vegetables for your salad with the same, unwashed knife.
Also avoid spreading bacteria by not using the cooking spoon as the tasting spoon, when preparing a food. And if you have someone in the house that likes to take a taste with their fingers, please have them wash their hands first!
Finally, a note for the chef in the house: remember, if you are tasting that meat sauce for your spaghetti dinner, wait until the meat is thoroughly cooked. Even though it’s on the stove cooking, it still can harbor harmful bacteria.
Sponges and dishcloths
Both sponges and disclothes are an ideal place to harbor bacteria and increase your chances of spreading a food pathogen. Often, we use the same sponge or dishcloth time and again to clean up raw juice spills from poultry, fish and raw meats, and bacteria build up in these “cleaning” items. Germs and bacteria then can easily spread from your dishcloth or sponge to your countertops, stove top, utensils and other items that can (and often do) contact food.
SEPARATE these contaminated sponges and dishcloths from your clean areas. Also, clean your sponges and dishcloths on a daily basis, and replace them often. Or, instead of sponges or dishcloths, use a paper towel or disinfectant wipe to clean up spills, and then dispose of the used towel or wipe.
There is a lot we can do to keep ourselves and our families safe when we prepare foods. In our next post, we will talk about cooking foods to their proper internal temperature.