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Are Germs Lurking In Your Kitchen?

When it comes to kitchen cleanliness, there are varying levels of germophobes throughout American households. While some might abide by a 5-second rule, others may wash the knife they use to cut fruit in between every slice. 

One in six Americans get sick each year from contaminated foods or beverages, according to the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC). The main causes are bacteria and viruses, including salmonella and norovirus. 

Contamination can result in sickness in anyone, however, there are certain groups of people who are more susceptible to falling ill because of food contamination. People with chronic illnesses, older people and pregnant women are more likely to get sick if their food or beverages have been contaminated. 

Some food poisoning symptoms include abdominal cramps, watery/bloody diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Food contamination begins in the kitchen, says Janet Conner, an infection preventionist at Banner Health. She shares some tips on how to keep the kitchen clean.

Lack of hand hygiene is one of the most common issues in the kitchen, according to Conner. The other prominent problem is infrequent wiping down of counters, cutting boards and other items. 

“Hand hygiene truly saves lives!” Conner said. 

Retail food establishments are held to much higher standards than household kitchens, which is another reason food can become contaminated in your own kitchen. Retail establishments require things such as stainless steel appliances, temperature monitoring, hair nets and gloves. Children also need to practice the importance of hand hygiene. Conner says to teach children to not touch their eyes, nose or mouth unless their hands are clean.

Keeping your kitchen clean

  • Clean: Germs can survive on your hands, utensils and cutting boards.
    • Wash hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, scrubbing the back of your hands, between fingers and under nails. To prevent cross contamination, make sure to wash your hands each and every time after handling raw meat.
    • Wash surfaces and utensils with soap and hot water after each use.
    • Wash fruits and vegetables before you peel or cut them.
    • Do not wash meat or poultry. This can cause bacteria from the raw meat and poultry juices to splash and spread to other foods, utensils and surfaces.
  • Separate: Germs are spread by cross-contamination.
    • Use separate cutting boards, plates and utensils for uncooked produce (e.g., vegetables and fruits) and uncooked meat, poultry and seafood.
    • Separate meat, poultry, seafood and eggs from other foods in your shopping cart at the grocery store.
    • Separate meat, poultry, seafood and eggs from all other foods in your refrigerator.
  • Cook: Cook to the right temperature.
    • Use a food thermometer to make sure food is cooked to the right temperature. Internal temperatures: whole meats at 145°F; ground meats at 160°F; and poultry at 165°F.
  • Chill: Refrigerate promptly and properly.
    • Refrigerate perishable food within two hours.

Keeping in mind these tips from APIC and Conner can help minimize the possibility of running into food contamination, and are good practices to keep yourself and the whole family healthy. 

More information and tips are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration.


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