The last thing anyone wants to do is to get (or give someone) food poisoning. The good news is, taking care to focus on food safety is pretty effective at keeping you and your family healthy. The bad news? There are a lot of misconceptions out there. Some of them are harmless, but others might actually put you at a higher risk of getting ill. Here's a look at what not to do in the kitchen:
Myth No. 1: 'Rinsing meat will help remove bacteria.'
This was considered common knowledge until fairly recently, and plenty of people still think that meats like chicken or beef need to be rinsed before they're cooked. The idea is that if you rinse it, you'll get rid of any icky germs on the meat and reduce your odds of picking up a foodborne illness from it. Unfortunately, the opposite is actually true – not only does rinsing your meat in the sink do little to remove germs from the food, but the germs it does remove end up splattered throughout your kitchen. The bacteria and viruses that cause food poisoning are killed during the cooking process – simply use a meat thermometer to ensure your food has reached a safe temperature before you eat it.
Myth No. 2: 'Leftovers are fine unless they look or smell bad.'
While you definitely should avoid weird-looking or smelly leftovers, they're not the only ones that could make you ill. The germs that cause food poisoning don't actually change a food item's smell or appearance, so something could have gone bad without you knowing. Generally speaking, you should eat leftovers within 3-4 days. Another good rule of thumb is to base a leftover's expiration date on that of the fastest-spoiling ingredient.
It's also important to store leftovers properly. The box you got at the restaurant won't really cut it unless you plan to eat the leftovers pretty quickly. Instead, transfer the food into an airtight food storage container. This will help it stay nice and fresh.
Myth No. 3: 'If I recook this item I left on the stove overnight, it will be safe to eat.'
It happens to the best of us – you cook a soup or a stew, decide to clean up in the morning, and completely forget to put away the leftovers. Many people think that, in this situation, all they have to do is reheat the food. After all, if you get the water to boiling, it should kill any bacteria that made its home there overnight. Unfortunately, it's not the bacteria themselves you necessarily need to worry about – it's the toxins they produce. These can't be boiled away, and, as a result, eating something that's been left out for more than two hours is fairly risky. While it might be heartbreaking to throw away the left-out food, it's much better for your health.
Myth No. 4: 'I don't need to rinse veggies or fruits I'm going to peel.'
Full disclosure: This is my personal downfall. It makes so much sense at first – if you're not eating the skin anyway, what's the point of rinsing it? For some items, this is a fairly good point – bananas and oranges, for example. Anything you peel with your hands should be fine: It's the items you slice that you need to rinse anyway.
Picture a watermelon covered in slime. You're not eating the watermelon's rind, so you don't need to rinse it, right? But you do have to cut the melon open, and when your knife touches the slime, it's gonna push it right into the melon itself. The same principle applies to things you peel, like carrots and potatoes. Even though you're not eating the discarded skin, your peeler touches the skin and then touches the part you're going to eat. Rinse items before peeling to make sure you get any icky off of them before you dive in.
Myth No. 5: 'That sponge is fine.'
There's a weird cognitive dissonance about sponges that we all experience. On one hand, we know they get gross quickly because we can see it happen. A sponge that's past its prime is hard to miss, as it will look, feel, and smell disgusting. However, many people justify keeping aging sponges around. It's natural logic – you use it to clean things, you fill it with soap regularly, so it's probably fine.
Sponges have a shockingly short healthy lifespan. This is because, for germs, a sponge is basically a five-star hotel. It's full of warm spaces for them to live in, it's got plenty of water, and it even has little tiny food particles for them to chow down on. Once your sponge fills up with little microorganisms, you're basically just spreading those bugs all over your dishes. Fortunately, there are three good ways to prevent this issue. First of all, you should clean your sponge weekly by getting it nice and wet and then sticking it in the microwave for two minutes. Secondly, replace your sponge after 30 uses – so, once a month if you wash dishes daily. The third way? Skip the sponge altogether and use the Easy Clean Brush. Since it's dishwasher safe, you can just pop it in with a load once a week and keep it nice and fresh.