Today in I-wish-I-learned-this-forever-ago news, The New York Times reports that rinsing raw turkey or chicken before popping it in the oven is, well, not such a great idea. Washing poultry with water doesn’t remove any bacteria—rather, because your hands are getting all over the bird, washing it could cause you to spread bacteria, whether it’s straight from you, from the sink, or some other surface in your kitchen.
“People are still shocked when we tell them,” Marianne Gravely, a food safety educator at the United States Department of Agriculture tells the Times, adding that they’ve actually been telling people this since the ’90s. (Oops!) It makes you wonder, what the heck else have we been doing wrong the whole time? Consider this the ultimate meal prep cheat sheet. Below, five common mistakes even the most cautious, health-minded eaters are likely making.
1. Not washing avocados
Unlike meat, avocados should get a quick scrub before consumption. Sure, they have a thick skin, but according to FDA foodborne illness expert Glenda Lewis, they can become contaminated from the soil, produce workers, or something else during the long journey from avocado grove to your avo-toast. Pro tip: Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water, then gently wash your avocado under running water with a clean vegetable brush. Dry it with a clean cloth or paper towel before slicing.
2. Washing your produce before refrigerating
Who knew food rinsing was so complicated? While a lot of people are in the habit of washing their fruits and veggies right after they buy them, registered dietitian Nora Minno, RD, says it’s best to wait until right before you’re about to eat ’em. “Washing fruits and veggies too early can leave excess moisture on the produce, which can lead to bacterial growth that could potentially cause illness,” she says.
3. Leaving ice cream out to soften for too long
It’s not all that uncommon to dig into your freezer, grab your favorite pint of ice cream, and leave it on the kitchen counter to thaw while you finish your dinner so that it’s nice and soft by the time you’re ready to dig in. Yet, again, this is another risky practice with the potential to cause food poisoning. “Ice cream melts fairly rapidly at room temperature and the milky, sugary, liquid concoction is a perfect petri dish for bacteria like Listeria,” Amreen Bashir, PhD, writes in The Conversation. Your best bet is to eat it right after your take it out of the freezer. Or, go for a dairy-free ice cream!
4. Eating pre-washed lettuce straight out of the bag
Pre-washed greens are the ultimate time-saver when it comes to meal preparation, right? Well, maybe not. Food poisoning expert Bill Marler (a lawyer who has worked on food-related sickness lawsuits for 25 years) says he’s seen so many E. coli outbreaks related to pre-washed veggies that he never buys them. Apparently, the extra washing means more people are involved in the delivery chain, which makes for an increased chance of cross contamination. If you’re going to buy bagged lettuce, you still need to rinse it at home.
5. Hand washing dishes before putting them in the dishwasher
Okay, this one is technically about cleanup, not meal prep, but it’s still an important tip when it comes to avoiding foodborne illness. It’s good form to give your plates a 10 second wipe-down with your sponge before loading them in the dishwasher, but there’s an important extra step most people forget: letting the dishes soak. Submerging your dishes for 60 seconds in cleansing solution (1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water) kills unwanted bacteria.
This piece was published on December 20, 2018. It was updated on December 21, 2018.
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