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Kitchen Hygiene

Por Lic. Nina Nazor Robles* -

Each year, food poisoning and gastrointestinal illnesses generate significant health care costs worldwide. They can be easily prevented by taking a few simple precautions.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have established recommended hygiene rules for the general public. Cleanliness is essential when handling food, both within and outside of the home. Keep everything clean so that no one gets sick from eating contaminated food.

  • It is essential to wash your hands with soap and warm water before preparing or eating food. According to the FDA, you should scrub your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds after handling chicken, raw meat, fish or seafood.
  • Cover your hair even when you are at home. If you have a wound or a cut, cover it well so bacteria (from the wound) do not contaminate any food.
  • Your cooking area must be clean and should be washed down with a chlorine solution made especially for kitchen use (make sure it does not come into contact with the food), or a commercial anti-bacterial solution.
  • Cloths and sponges used for cleaning the kitchen and drying dishes should also be clean. They can foster the growth and spread of bacteria when they are wet. That's why it's recommended you wash cloths and sponges in hot water at least once a week.
  • Disinfect your kitchen drain regularly by pouring some of the above mentioned solutions down it. This is especially important if you have a garbage disposal and have been preparing meat or other foods of animal origin. This type of waste can get stuck in the drain and can create a perfect environment for bacteria to thrive.
  • Use hard wooden or stiff plastic chopping boards that are not scratched and are easy to wash. Wash and scrub them with water, soap, and a scrubbing brush. If you can, disinfect them by putting them in the dishwasher or soaking them in the chlorine solution we mentioned earlier. Have two chopping boards, one for fruit, vegetables, and ready-to-eat foods, and another for raw animal products that need to be cooked before they can be eaten.
  • Always use clean cooking utensils. Wash them after cutting and preparing food. Wash the tops of cans before opening them. Never put food that is ready to eat on plates that have held raw food (like meat, chicken, or fish).
  • Wash all fruit and vegetables well, with clean water. Do not use soap or detergents. If necessary, use a small scrub brush to remove soil. Vinegar is good for cleaning vegetables. Soak them for at least half an hour.
  • When cooking, use a thermometer to make sure meat is well cooked. Push the thermometer 1 or 2 inches into the food, and wait 30 seconds before taking a reading. Beef should be cooked to at least 160°F, and chicken to 180°F. Don't eat chicken if it is still pink on the inside.
  • Cook eggs until the egg white and yolk are hard. Avoid homemade foods containing raw eggs, like caesar salad dressing or mayonnaise. These may be contaminated with salmonella. The commercial versions of these products are made with pasteurized eggs and are safer.
  • Fish and seafood also need to be cooked properly. Their internal temperature should be at least 145°F for 15 seconds. If you don’t have a thermometer, look for the following signs to determine if it is fully cooked:
    • Fish is ready when the thickest part becomes opaque and the flesh falls apart easily when lifted with a fork.
    • Prawns should be cooked for 5 to 6 minutes or until they are pink, with or without their shells.
    • Oysters and clams should be cooked in boiling water until their shells open (after approximately 10 minutes) and then further boiled for at least another 5 minutes.
  • Avoid letting uncooked food contaminate cooked food. Cooked food should not be left at room temperature for more than 2 hours. Disease-causing bacteria grow at temperatures between 40 and 140°F. Cooked food left out for more than 2 hours at these temperatures should not be eaten.
  • Reheated food should be heated to at least 165°F. Anything remaining should be refrigerated immediately. Eat leftovers within three days.
  • Avoid defrosting food at room temperature. It is safer to transfer frozen food to the fridge for one or two days, or to use the microwave.

Follow this advice as part of your daily kitchen routine and you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble, and ensure that no one in your family gets sick from the food you prepare. 


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