In the kitchen, proper handling of raw meat, fish, and poultry can stop most germs associated with them from multiplying to levels that can make you and your family ill.
While most pathogens that occur naturally in uncooked foods are killed by proper cooking - to an internal temperature of at least 145 F (63 C) for roasts or chops of beef, veal, or lamb' 160 F for ground meats; and 180 F (83 C) for poultry - many germs can spread long before you pop the entree into the oven.
When it comes to the health of your family and guests, you can never be too careful. Keep germs and bacteria in check with these kitchen safety tips for making dinner.
E. coli, hepatitis A, and salmonella - the most common food contaminants - can find their way onto a sponge or dishcloth. You, in turn, can then spread the bacteria all over your kitchen unless you make an effort to stop them.
The single most important thing you can do to ensure your family's health is to wash your hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after preparing food.
This will prevent you from spreading meat-, -poultry, or fish-borne bacteria onto refrigerator doors, cabinet handles, and countertops, where they'll be lying in wait next time you reach for a leftover slice of pizza.
In addition to washing your hands, you can help prevent cross-contamination by washing in hot, soapy water the utensils used to prepare your raw food. That includes all knives, cutting boards, and serving platters that have held raw meat, fish, or poultry.
When grilling, don't serve meat on the same platter that you used to carry it outside before cooking.
If your kitchen counter comes in contact with even a drop of juice from uncooked meat, poultry, or fish, clean up the area with hot, soapy water and paper towels - not the sponge you use daily.
To kill all the germs, however, you'll need to clean the surface with a mild bleach solution (one-part bleach to nine parts water) or use a commercial disinfectant.
Keep all kitchen surfaces dry; bacteria survive no more than a few hours when moisture is eliminated. Even your kitchen sponges and dishcloths - the very items that are supposed to help you get rid of lurking germs - can be part of the problem unless you clean them regularly.
You should replace your sponges every two weeks. Regularly throw dishcloths in the washing machine - and always use hot water and bleach. Experts recommend using a plastic cutting board (not wood) for raw meats - it is less likely to harbor bacteria. Wash it in hot, soapy water after each use.
Always eat food while it's hot, and refrigerate leftovers promptly.
Prepared or cut food, including fruit, should not sit unrefrigerated for more than two hours in cool weather, one hour when it's warm. If the food item has been left out, for kitchen safety and your family's health, toss it! Always store eggs in the fridge, and discard those with cracked or broken shells.
Resist the urge to taste-test if you're unsure about something - even a small amount of contaminated food can make you very ill. Put dates on leftovers in the fridge so that you can use them within a safe period - usually a few days. Determining a food's safety by odor or appearance is risky; spoilage isn't always obvious.
Finally, wash produce before you eat or cook it to remove surface germs. That way, you won't contaminate other surfaces after touching these foods.
Keep germs and bacteria in check - and out of your food - with these kitchen safety tips for defrosting food: