By Nicci Micco, M.S., Content Director, Custom Publishing & Licensing for EatingWell
Every year, 76 million Americans get sick from food, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Nothing you can do will ever guarantee 100 percent protection against food-borne illness, but taking certain precautions can help reduce your risk. Some of these protective steps are common sense, like washing your hands before you eat. Others aren't so obvious. Read on to discover five surprising sources of food-borne "bugs" in your kitchen that we've written about in EatingWell Magazine, and how to protect yourself.
When participants in a study from NSF International (an independent public health organization) swabbed various items in their houses, the kitchen sponge was by far the germiest. In fact, it harbored 150 times more bacteria, mold and yeast than a toothbrush holder. "You pick up bacteria when cleaning, but because you rarely disinfect that sponge between uses, germs multiply," says Rob Donofrio, M.S., Ph.D., NSF's director of microbiology. While the majority of germs they found won't make you sick, some -- such as salmonella and E. coli -- can cause serious illness. The best way to de-germ your sponge: Microwave a wet sponge for two minutes daily and replace it every two weeks. More from EatingWell: 7 Unexpected Uses For Your Microwave 9 'Bad' Foods You Should Be Eating The Best Oils To Cook With (And 2 To Skip)
Cold temperatures slow the growth of bacteria, so it's important to make sure that your refrigerator doesn't rise above 40 degrees F. Reduce your risk of food-borne illness by keeping tabs on your fridge temp with a thermometer. You can buy a refrigerator/freezer thermometer at appliance stores, home centers (e.g., Home Depot) and online kitchen stores.
Bacteria from uncooked meat, poultry and fish can contaminate cooked foods and fresh produce. An important way to reduce this risk is to use separate cutting boards for raw meat/poultry/fish and produce/cooked foods.
If you enjoy eating eggs with runny yolks or snitching a bit of raw batter when you're making cookies, you're not alone. But the USDA recommends avoiding raw or undercooked eggs (especially for young children and the elderly) because of the possibility of food-borne illness like salmonella, one of the five common food-borne bacteria you want to avoid. If you can't keep your hands (or your kids' hands) out of the cookie batter or you're working with a recipe that calls for raw or undercooked eggs, consider pasteurized-in-the-shell eggs. They're no different than regular eggs except they've been heat-treated to kill any harmful bacteria -- making them safe to consume raw or partially cooked. Look for them in large supermarkets near other in-the-carton eggs.
You should discard any food that's been recalled because it's associated with the outbreak of a food-borne illness. But according to a survey conducted by Rutgers University, only about 60 percent of Americans search their homes for foods that have been recalled because of contamination. Whenever there's a food recall, check products stored at home to make sure they are safe. For more information on food recalls, visit www.recalls.gov. More from EatingWell: 7 Unexpected Uses For Your Microwave 9 'Bad' Foods You Should Be Eating The Best Oils To Cook With (And 2 To Skip)
What do you do to keep your kitchen and your food safe?
By Nicci Micco
Nicci Micco is Content Director, Custom Publishing & Licensing for EatingWell and co-author of EatingWell 500-Calorie Dinners. She has a master's degree in nutrition and food sciences, with a focus in weight management.
For more from EatingWell writers, click here.
For more on personal health, click here.
Follow EatingWell on Twitter: www.twitter.com/eatingwell