I was inspired by a reader’s comment after my column: she asked how to wash fruits and vegetables, specifically. Great question, and one that I find that many of us take for granted—and we cannot afford to take food hygiene practices for granted.
Why? Good food hygiene that you and I practice at home, every day, can have a significant impact on our public health. Yup, it’s true. You and I can help prevent the spread of food-borne illnesses just by taking time to wash not only our hands, but also our fruits and vegetables.
It’s essential that we know how. This is a great example of the ripple effect: what you do in your kitchen affects all of those around you, and they in turn affect those around them, and so on…et voila, before you know it, your everyday practices have affected the public health of untold individuals!
So, let’s get down and dirty. How do you actually keep your kitchen safe, and thus ensure that you and your family stay healthy? Let’s pick up where I left off last time: after you’ve washed your hands (and in case I wasn’t strong enough in my last column…wash, wash, and wash some more!), be sure to always do the following.
1) Clean Your Work Surface: Clean your work surface, i.e. counter-tops, cutting boards. You can wash the surfaces with warm water, or a commercial preparation specifically made for countertops. Remember, sponges harbor bacteria, so if you use them be sure to clean them frequently. (I prefer paper towels)
2) Segregate Your Cutting Boards: Let your inner decorator out: invest in several cutting boards, maybe a blue for chicken and a red for vegetables. Using different cutting boards for raw meat, fruits and vegetables is an easy way to cut down on the risk of contamination. You can run them through the dishwasher, as well, to get them good and clean.
3) Invest in a Good Food Thermometer: Invest in a good food thermometer (stocking stuffer, anyone?). Don’t just go by time, or color, when checking to see if your chicken or meat is cooked. Many recipes advise how hot the meat should be when it’s done, and when it doubt, you can always look it up as well.
4) Get Some BPA-Free Storage Containers: And while you’re out buying multiple cutting boards, purchase some more storage containers (I just got glass ones with all different color lids that I can microwave in as well as use for storing leftovers in the fridge). You can store food in plastic (check for BPA-free!) or glass containers, but it isn’t recommended to microwave in some plastics. Rather than try and remember what I can and cannot reheat in, I prefer just to use glass containers whenever possible.
OK, now on to the fun stuff: the food itself.
5) Clean Your Fruits and Veggies The Right Way: Lots of research has been done looking at the best way to wash fruits and vegetables. Does tap water suffice? Should we use vinegar, should we use specific vegetable wash solutions?In their article, Kilonzo-Nthenge et al. evaluated multiple methods for washing vegetables, including pre-soaking the vegetables, running them under tap water, brushing them, using paper towels, and also using vinegar and lemon preparations.
All in all, they concluded that soaking in cold tap water was not significantly different than using other preparations, such acidic solutions (think vinegar or lemon). In addition, they found it helpful to rub or brush the vegetables.So, whether you are just eating an apple (and aren’t they great right now?) or making home-made soup or stir-frying vegetables, be sure to scrub them under water to get them good and clean before you eat them.