Food-borne illness can be spread when bacteria-infected uncooked foods come in contact with cooked or ready-to-eat foods, such as fruits and raw vegetables. Avoid cross-contamination by having at least two cutting boards, one for meat or fish and another for fresh produce.
If possible, go grocery shopping as your last errand before heading home. If you must run other errands, put a cooler in the car and buy a bag of ice to keep the perishables chilled. In fact, in hotter climates, you need a cooler in the car even if shopping is your last stop. Forty-five minutes in summertime traffic can render meat rancid, milk spoiled and butter liquid.
While you shop: Put meats or fish in plastic bags before you stick them in your cart so they don’t drip on the vegetables or pantry items.
Get the perishables in your refrigerator or freezer ASAP.
Never store eggs, milk and the like on your refrigerator door, which is the part of the fridge with the greatest temperature fluctuations.
We recommend setting your refrigerator temperature control for 40°F, and using the door for storing ketchup, mustard and convenience products that are not so easily subject to spoilage.
Freezing: It’s recommended that your freezer be kept at 2°F for safe frozen-food storage.
Preparing to Cook
Defrost food in the refrigerator or the microwave to deter bacterial growth. Leaving it out at room temperature to defrost does the opposite.
Before you begin cooking, wash your hands with soap under warm water for at least 20 seconds (about as long as it takes to sing the chorus of “Jingle Bells”).
Rinse off fruits and vegetables under cool running water. But despite what your mother may have taught you, it’s not wise to rinse off poultry, meat or fish. The bacterial contaminants can only be killed at temperatures above 160°F, far hotter than the hot water in our homes. Rinsing only allows for random splashes—and thus cross-contamination of counters and cabinets.
Unwrap meats and fish in the sink and leave them in their container or paper until you’re ready to use them. Immediately throw out the container or paper; never reuse it.
Avoid cross-contamination by having at least two cutting boards, one for the meat or fish and another for fresh produce.
Wash plastic cutting boards in the dishwasher; wash your knives in hot, soapy water. And wash your counters with hot, soapy water.
An occasional thorough once-over with a kitchen disinfectant spray is a good idea.