Diet & Nutrition

5 common kitchen habits that can actually cause food poisoning

Bad news: You’re probably guilty of at least one!

By Queensland Health
Food poisoning is all too common these days. The National Health Department estimates that it affects around 4.1 million Australians each year – that's almost a quarter of the entire population!
While many cases occur when dining out (or eating badly-prepared takeaway food, some cases are actually a result of bad behaviour at home. You may think you're taking all the right precautions to keep your family safe from foodborne illnesses, but in reality, some of your cooking and food prep habits could be more deadly than you think.
Think you could be guilty? We've rounded up five bad (and potentially harmful) kitchen habits you should give the boot to, stat.

1. Not washing your hands after handling food waste

Washing your hands before cooking is a no-brainer but washing your hands throughout the cooking process can be a trickier skill to master/remember.
If you're guilty of not washing your hands after handling raw meats or dealing with food waste (we get it – the quicker dinner is on the table, the better!) you could be exposing your family to a greater risk of food poisoning. Neglecting to wash your hands whilst cooking increases the risk of spreading harmful bacteria that's found on the surface of fresh produce and kitchen surface areas. Fact: The greater the spread of bacteria, the greater the risk of cross-contamination.
Taking around 20 seconds each wash, remembering to frequently sanitise your hands is one of the best ways to cut your food poisoning risk at home.

2. Drying dishes with a tea towel

Just like sponges, tea towels are overused. Tasked with everything from wiping up spills to drying the kids' hands, the tea towel is quick to become contaminated with harmful germs, especially when it's not cleaned frequently.
Rather than wiping down dishes with a bacteria-infested tea towel, give air-drying a go. Not only will it take out some of the added stress from the nightly scrub up, it will also minimise the spread of nasty kitchen germs from your towel to your plates. Genius!
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3. Over-packing the fridge

There's nothing more satisfying than tackling the weekly shop and opening up the doors to a fully-stocked fridge, especially when you've somehow managed to fit in all your groceries with Tetris-like skill. However, cramming every nook and cranny with fresh produce, leftovers and drinks can actually be a bad thing.
An overfilled fridge will reduce the circulation of cold air, meaning some items in your fridge could actually spoil without you even realising (talk about a food poisoning waiting to happen). Be smart and keep food fresher for longer by compartmentalising your fridge into food groups, always keeping raw meat wrapped and at the bottom of the fridge. Also, remember to check your fridge's temperature regularly!

4. Storing leftovers for longer than 24 hours

Often, cooking and preparing meals takes longer than it does for the whole family to gobble it up! So, if you happen to have leftovers, the last thing you want to do is throw them down the garbage shoot. Instead, you wrap your extras up and store them in the fridge to be enjoyed at a later time.
However, this approach to leftover storage is risky, as meals containing meat, poultry and dairy have a short-lived leftover time. Consuming out-of-date meat is incredibly dangerous as it can contain harmful bacteria that will infect the body.
As painful as it is to part with your delicious eats; if you know cold leftovers have been kept for longer than 24 hours, throw them out or repurpose them with a cooked recipe (if you reheat leftovers and eat them steaming hot, they're good for up to 48 hours).
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5. Taking shortcuts when cleaning

Cleaning: It's a gruelling chore that no one really enjoys doing. The kitchen, in particular, is an area of the home that is in constant need of attention, so when shortcuts arise to minimise cleaning time, you're likely to take them. Deciding to skip out on wiping down food-prep surfaces or rinsing used dishes instead of washing them with hot, soapy water, are easy enough time savers that can actually prove incredibly harmful.
Always wipe down benches after cooking and be sure to use hot soapy water or a disinfectant cleaning spray. Regularly change your sponge as overused sponges can harbour more germs than a toilet seat – gross! Also remember that knives, utensils and chopping boards that have been used for raw chicken, meats and eggs need to be washed with hot, soapy water to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria.
Brought to you by Feel Good Facts, a Queensland Health initiative.