When it comes to clean and safe cooking, there are a few basics you probably know: keep the raw chicken away from everything else and always wash produce before you eat it.
But while most people know poultry can contain bacteria, what a lot of people don’t realize is that the bacteria is often transferred from the meat, to the package, to your hands, to the grocery cart and so on. And on top of posing serious health risks, food poisoning and other related health issues can lead to some big medical bills. One study estimated the annual cost of food poisoning in the U.S. to be as much as $78 billion.
So when it comes to food safety, you can never be too careful.
Thanks to a new report from Consumer Reports, here’s a look at four common food safety mistakes that can lead to the spread of dangerous bacteria — and even cause serious illness — and how to avoid them!
4 food-safety mistakes to avoid
1. Reusing shopping bags
According to the experts over at Consumer Reports, reusable shopping bags can be a ‘breeding ground for bacteria.’
The product safety group released a study last year that found 65% of poultry products tested contained E. coli. And while the meat you buy at the store is packaged, a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that bacteria can be transferred to the outside of the packaging, often finding its way onto shoppers’ hands, carts etc.
If you use reusable shopping bags, make sure to wash them frequently in the washing machine using hot water. When buying raw meat, put it in a separate, sealed bag, before putting it into your shopping bag. Also, keep raw meat in the sealed bag when you place it in your fridge or freezer at home, to ensure no bacteria is transferred to any other foods or surfaces.
Consumer Reports suggests packing all uncooked meat in disposable bags to keep your reusable ones from getting contaminated.
2. Storing raw meat on the top shelf of the fridge
Bad idea! Just like it can transfer from the package to your hands, bacteria found on raw meat can spread to other foods in your fridge or freezer. And raw poultry isn’t the only hazard. If juices from any type of raw meat drips onto other foods, it can contaminate them with bacteria and make you seriously ill.
Read more: 12 ways to reduce food waste in your home
It’s important to keep any type of raw meat separate from other foods, in a sealed package or bag, apart from just the packaging it comes in. Then store the meat on the bottom shelf of the fridge, where it can’t drip juices onto other items. Plus, the bottom of the fridge is the coldest.
Consumer Reports says to clean up any spills involving raw meat juices immediately, and you should also clean your fridge at least once a month. To be extra safe, you can wipe down all the surfaces inside the fridge using a mixture of one teaspoon of bleach and quart of water.
3. Rinsing chicken or turkey before cooking
This is not necessary. And in fact, it can do more harm than good by splashing juices — potentially contaminated with bacteria — onto kitchen surfaces, utensils etc.
Skip the rinsing. Cooking meat to the proper temperature will get rid of bacteria.
4. Never checking your fridge’s temperature
If your fridge isn’t cold enough, it can become a breeding ground for disease-causing bacteria.
To avoid the potential dangers of a not-cold-enough fridge, Consumer Reports suggests using a refrigerator thermometer to frequently check the temperature. CR’s experts say for ‘optimal food safety,’ the fridge should be below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees is ideal), and your freezer should be no higher than 0 degrees Fahrenheit.