Katy G. Wilkens
You Are What You Eat: Beware of bad bugs
A friend of mine is getting chemotherapy for cancer and I have been cooking weekly for her. That’s made me think a lot about food safety. Foodborne illnesses can be harmful for anyone, but the risk is higher for chemotherapy patients, the elderly, young children, pregnant women and transplant patients, among others.
Experts estimate that we could avoid 85 percent of all cases of food poisoning if people handled food properly. From shopping at the grocery to storing and cooking food at home, here are a dozen tips to zap germs:
• If your supermarket has wipes for the grocery cart handle, use them. Hands transfer germs.
• Shop first for meat, fish and poultry, and put each item in a separate plastic bag at the bottom of the cart. Set boxed or packaged items on top of the meats. This method keeps your bananas from rubbing up against someone else’s raw chicken drippings.
• Head for the fresh produce last and place them on top of other foods, since you often eat these foods raw, and you want them clean. Avoid pre-cut fruit and its higher risk of contamination, and bag everything you buy.
• When you get home, refrigerate perishable foods right away. The only produce you should wash immediately are lettuce, spinach and other greens. Wash them under running water to remove germs. Don’t dunk them in a filled-up sink, as that will just spread germs around. Dry greens with a salad spinner, a clean towel or paper towels. Less moisture will keep bacteria and mold from growing.
• When you are ready to eat other produce, wash it thoroughly with cold running water. Wash the food even if you are going to peel it; otherwise, you may transfer bacteria from the outside to the inside when you cut into it.
• Don’t use soap or veggie washes. If you need to, use a moderately stiff vegetable brush to get dirt out of cracks or crevices in melons, potatoes, carrots and citrus fruits.
• Check the temperature inside your refrigerator with an appliance thermometer. The main compartment should run at 40 degrees F and the freezer at 0 degrees F.
• Keep meat on low shelves or on plates, so it doesn’t drip onto other foods. If you aren’t going to cook meat within a day or two, freeze it.
• Always wash your hands in hot soapy water before preparing, and while fixing food, or after using the bathroom, changing diapers, handling pets or touching your nose or face.
• Bacteria can live in kitchen towels, sponges and cloths. Wash them daily, and change them often. You should replace sponges every few weeks, but they are such bacteria magnets, I don’t even use them. Paper towels are a good tool to keep your kitchen clean, since germs are thrown out with the dirty paper.
• Wash your hands, cutting board and knife in hot soapy water after cutting meat and before chopping veggies or salad ingredients. Clean boards often with bleach or toss them in the dishwasher. I have colored boards - one that I always use for meats and another only for produce.
• If you are cooking for someone whose immune system is depressed, think about occasionally using a light bleach solution on your counters, refrigerator handles and cutting boards. Mix 1 teaspoon of bleach with 3 cups of water. Discard within 24 hours as the bleach will lose its ability to kill germs once mixed with water.
Katy G. Wilkens is a registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. She has a Master of Science degree in nutritional sciences from the University of Washington. See her recipes at www.nwkidney.org.