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Dietitians Dish: Keep your kitchen safe

By Jami Martin
Jan. 17, 2012 at midnight
Updated Jan. 16, 2012 at 7:17 p.m.

Jami Martin

Jami Martin

Food safety is a huge priority that's not always in the forefront of our thoughts, even though it should be.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year roughly 1 out of 6 Americans, or 48 million people, get sick; 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from food-borne diseases.

Reducing food-borne illness by just 1 percent would keep about 500,000 Americans from getting sick each year.

Reducing food-borne illness by 10 percent would keep about 5 million people from getting sick.

People at highest risk are pregnant women, infants, older adults and people with weakened immune systems and chronic illnesses including diabetes, kidney disease, AIDS and some cancer patients.

The following are a few recommendations to assist with maintaining a safe kitchen and eating area for you and your family:

Use good hand washing technique. Wash hands with warm water and soap. Continue to wash for 20 seconds (equivalent to singing the "happy birthday" song twice). Don't forget to scrub the backs of hands, between fingers and under finger nails to remove any food and bacteria. Then rinse hands and dry them with a clean towel or let air dry.

Use thermometers to ensure food is cooked and held at recommended temperatures outside of the danger zone. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines the danger zone as the temperature where bacteria grows most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 40 degrees and 140 degrees, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes.

Appropriately thawing of foods is vital in ensuring food is safe prior to cooking and preventing any cross contamination. Meat, poultry and fish should be defrosted in the refrigerator on a tray and covered to prevent cross contamination, or in the microwave on the defrost setting.

Continue to rinse ready-to-eat food, fruits and vegetables, prior to eating; however, avoid rinsing food items, such as meat, poultry, fish and eggs, as this increases risk for cross contamination of bacteria.

Sanitizing sponges often can decrease risk of cross contamination. There are two ways to sanitize. One way is to use the hot cycle on your dishwasher or you may place a wet sponge in the microwave for two minutes on high to sanitize between uses. Never microwave dry sponges because of fire risk.

Sponges used to clean drippings from raw meat, chicken and fish can be sanitized with a sanitizing solution.

Don't forget your hand towels and wash cloths are culprits as well. They should be washed in the hot water cycle of the washing machine to prevent spread of bacteria.

Designate cutting boards for specific tasks. This can decrease risk of cross contamination. Use one cutting board for meats, poultry and fish and another one for ready-to-eat foods.

Following each task, wash cutting boards with warm soapy water and use a sanitizing solution of 1 Tablespoon bleach to 1 gallon of water.

A cutting board that is cracked and has knife scars should be discarded.

Jami Martin is a registered and licensed dietitian. Send questions or comments to dietitians@vicad.com.

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