Germs are tiny and easy to spread. Germs are found everywhere, including in our food. Raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs are the main sources of germs that cause foodborne illnesses, but fruits and veggies can also carry germs. The four basic steps of food safety – Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill – help to reduce the risk of getting sick from germs in food. Spreading germs from food is called cross-contamination. The Separate step shows us how to avoid cross-contamination to keep germs from spreading.
At the Store
The first stop on the journey to our plates is the grocery store. When shopping, keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs separate from other foods in your shopping cart. Place these products in separate plastic bags to prevent juices from getting on other foods and spreading germs.
If you use reusable grocery bags, wash them regularly in the washing machine. I wash reusable bags after using them for meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs immediately. I wash reusable bags for other items once every few weeks.
In the Fridge
Once you get home from the store, you still need to keep foods that might spread germs separate from the rest of your food. Store ready-to-eat foods on the top shelves of the fridge. Place foods that might cross-contaminate other items (raw meat, poultry, or seafood) at the bottom. Store raw meats in a bowl or tray to catch any leaks, especially if your veggie and fruit bins are underneath the bottom shelf.
When you’re ready to cook, there are still a few opportunities to cross-contaminate. If you don’t have separate cutting boards for meat and produce, you need to wash your cutting board and any utensils between preparing raw meats and produce or ready to eat foods.
No matter what you may have been taught growing up, don’t rinse meat in the sink. Once you cook it, all the germs will be killed anyway. The only thing rinsing meat does is splash germs all around your kitchen, potentially cross-contaminating your dishcloths, counters, or other foods.
When marinating food, keep it in the fridge and away from other ready to eat foods. Throw away leftover marinade because it is contaminated with germs from raw meat. Wash the container used for marinating.
When grilling, don’t put cooked food back on the same plate you used for raw meat. Either wash it after placing food on the grill or use a new plate.
Food safety is important to keep you and your family from getting sick. But the steps to keep food safe are common sense. Pay attention to the potential for cross-contamination. Wash and sanitize surfaces often. Keep raw food away from ready-to-eat food. Wash your hands often. By making these practices everyday habits, you can separate the germs from your food.