Handling Food Safely Prevents Food Poisoning

Most food poisoning cases originate in home kitchens. Safe food handling is crucial for preventing upset stomachs and contaminated food in your green kitchen.

Ellen’s book is a great read–how about these witty yet informative couple of sentences:

“Animal-based food, such as beef, pork, fish, or cheese, spoils when bacteria breaks the proteins down into toxic amines. The names of these amines—putrescine, cadaverine, and histamine—give some idea of their charm . . .” (p. 108)
It’s darkly humorous and makes me laugh every time I read it! Lolol!

Cleaning food

How to clean food is not that complicated.

Meat – I have just learned that I should not wash meat before cooking. The reason being, the sobering reason is that washing the meat, with its accompanying bacteria, with water in the sink just spreads the bacteria around your kitchen and doesn’t wash it off the meat anyway. Also, as discussed in my post about cleaning your kitchen sink bits of meat can lodge in the drain and disposal and allow Salmonella to live and breed. You may however, spray it with first undiluted 5% distilled white vinegar and then 3% hydrogen peroxide to rinse off the vinegar. Don’t rinse with water!

Produce – Washing produce is a very good idea. Usually a good inspection, and then a thorough washing or even scrubbing with a dedicated brush under clean running water will be enough to clean soil and soil bacteria from the produce. Don’t forget to wash fruits and vegetables that you will peel or cut open and scoop out such as cantaloupe, papaya, oranges, and carrots. Germs from the outside can be transferred to the inside on the blade of the knife or your fingers.

handling food safely

However, if you are sensitive to bacteria, you have a sensitive stomach and digestive system, even the littlest bits of bacterial contaminated soil, or whatever, can make you feel sick after you eat it. In that case I suggest that you wash your produce carefully with a spray of undiluted 5% distilled white vinegar, and then a spray of 3% hydrogen peroxide to rinse off the vinegar. Again, don’t rinse with water!

Beth Greer in her book Super Natural Home has done her homework to show conclusions from tests performed at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and at Good Housekeeping Institute. VPISU found that using 5% vinegar sequentially (as in not combined in the same bottle) with 3% Peroxide to successfully kill E. coli, Salmonella, and Shigella bacteria as well as or better than chlorine bleach! Good Housekeeping has shown that using just 5% vinegar alone kills 99% of bacteria, 82% of mold, and 80 % of viruses. Great news cause chlorine bleach is yucky stuff. Only use it if you have to!

To find out more about specific foods and how to store and handle them safely check out this article from the Center for Disease Control:

I have learned more about food safety from a nifty newsletter called ‘Nutrition Action Health Letter’ published by Center for Science in the Public Interest, November 2011 edition. You know how you put those leftovers in the fridge a few days ago? Or you bought some food that you haven’t gotten around to eating? Well, you cannot tell if food from your refrigerator is unsafe simply by looking at it or smelling it. O. Peter Snyder of the Hospitality Institute of Technology and Management says

“Eyeballing and sniffing just detects the presence of spoilage microorganisms, not necessarily food pathogens. . . Most of the organisms in food that can make you sick do not create slime, stink, and smell.”

How do you know then if something is safe to eat? My advice is to err on the side of caution and just throw away any food, cooked or uncooked that you have any reluctance to eat. Restaurant leftovers need to be eaten the next day, if at all, and thrown out after that. How do you know how long the food was stored at the restaurant before it was served to you? You’d be surprised, again, watch ‘Kitchen Nightmares’ sometime and see for yourself. Local news reporters have become interested in this topic and are busy outing dirty restaurant kitchens. If you are like me, throwing away food is hard, but wouldn’t it be better to feed it to the garbage can, disposal, or compost heap than feed it to yourself and risk food poisoning?

Here’s a no brainer—don’t eat moldy food. Mold spots can be removed safely from dense foods like hard cheeses or firm produce like carrots, but don’t try this with soft cheeses, breads, yogurt or luncheon meats since the mold easily penetrates below the surface of these processed foods and continues to multiply. Throw those out please!

Another lesson to learn is to pay attention to food recalls. According to the article ‘Safe at Home’ in Nutrition Action Health Letter, last year alone the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) recalled 1499 class 1 food products that includes everything but meat poultry and raw eggs which are regulated by the USDA.

Tips on Preventing Food Poisoning

Ellen Sandbeck does a stellar job of running down all kinds of food poisoning scenarios in her book Green Housekeeping.  I will point out and paraphrase some of her most interesting tips from the section ‘Preventing Food Poisoning’ (p. 99).

  • “Food preservatives were invented to stop or slow bacterial growth in food. This means that fresh organic food is more likely to support bacterial growth than is food that contains preservatives. Proper food handling is essential in the natural foods kitchen.”
  • Shigella bacteria (as well as Norwalk virus and hepatitis A virus) contamination of food comes from food handlers using the bathroom/toilet, or changing diapers and not washing their hands before returning to the kitchen. Easily avoidable!
  • Staphylococcus bacteria lives at room temperatures and is killed by cooking, which is great, except for the fact that the sickening toxins Staph creates while alive in the food can still make you sick.
  • Here’s something I didn’t know but maybe you did. Cooked starchy food is favored by Bacillus cereus bacteria and will start to grow super fast when the food is at room temperature. That includes cooked rice, pasta, and potatoes. The advice is to eat these foods while they are still hot, and then cool them quickly and store in your fridge (which is at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.)
  • Besides Bacillus, the bacteria called Clostridium botulinum, which produces the Botulism toxin,
    • “are ubiquitous on most root vegetables and are also found on other produce. The spores remain dormant in the presence of oxygen, but when canning temperatures are not high enough, the spores awaken inside comfortably airless canning jars. They then colonize the canned food and transform it into deadly poison.” (p.103)
  • The take-away from this advice is that home canners have to be really, really careful about botulism; however, commercial canned products can also be tainted. The way to tell almost for sure with commercially canned products is if the can or jar lid is bulging. If you have any doubts about a canned product don’t eat it!  That is prevention at it’s most basic.
  • As a precaution, as a preventative measure, always avoid dinged cans and jars with dinged lids as the vacuum seal may have been broken allowing in bacteria.
  • Potatoes are an un-assuming culprit when it comes to food poisoning. It seems that deadly cases of it have caused by cooked potato dishes not stored properly. It’s best to scrub raw potatoes really well, without soap, bake them without foil wrapped around them, eat them immediately and never store them at room temperature for more than one hour.
  • Another interesting factoid about potatoes is that it is bad for you to eat green potatoes. I had heard this before but never understood it and kind of ignored it. Hmmmm, well the green potatoes contain a naturally occurring chemical called Solanine. Potatoes are pretty gothic actually, being from the genus Solanaceae, or Deadly Nightshade Family.
  • Food covered in oil and left at room temperature can grow botulism.

Again, don’t get freaked out about food poisoning. It’s easy to prevent if you just pay attention to what you are doing in the kitchen and practice some of these safe food handling tips!


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Julia has been practicing green cleaning for several years as the owner of As You Like It Home Cleaning and organic gardening for almost 20 years running Julia Houriet Custom Gardening. She studied landscape design at Radcliffe Seminars in Cambridge Massachusetts. Her expertise is gleaned from education and years of experience.

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