Washing Hands, Vegetables, Fruits Critical When Preparing Meals

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • I have signed up for another community supported agriculture program that offers produce and meat. On Monday I received a huge box with lots of goodies, including kale, potatoes, lettuce, carrots, broccoli and collard greens. It looks so beautiful that I want to just dive in and nibble on some of the goodies – but I don’t. That’s because it’s really important to properly clean produce prior to cooking since it can contain dirt and bacteria.

    So where do you start when getting ready to cook a meal? It starts with your hands. You need to be vigilant about washing your hands before, during and after cooking to remove all dirt and bacteria. Plan on washing your hands with soap and warm water at least 20 seconds before preparing food and then again after the preparation is over. In addition, you should wash your hands thoroughly if you have touched raw eggs, meat, poultry or seafood or their leftover juices. And if you happen to sneeze, cough or blow your nose while in the middle of food preparation, you need to wash your hands yet again prior to returning to cooking.

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    So let’s look on to preparing the meal itself. What if your produce, like mine, comes from a community supported agriculture program, a farmer’s market, a roadside stand or a supermarket?  The first step is to inspect the produce that you plan on using. If it looks rotten, throw it away. However, if you find damaged or bruised areas, you can remove those sections with a knife.

    The next step is to thoroughly wash the produce -- even those vegetables and fruits you might be peeling, such as potatoes -- under running water. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, this cleaning method should suffice and you don’t need to use soap, detergent or produce washes to clean the produce. Firm types of fruits and vegetables, such as cucumbers, should be scrubbed using a produce brush. In all cases, dry the washed produce off with a paper towel or a clean cloth towel. However, if you bought your produce that is pre-cut and already packaged and the bag states that it is pre-washed or ready to eat, you can go ahead and use it without washing it.

    When preparing your meals, you should keep the produce away from raw meat, poultry and seafood. You also should not risk cross contamination by immediately using knives and other kitchen utensils that were involved in the preparation of these meats. Therefore, it’s really important to have a clean cutting board, knives, spoons, bowls and plates using dish soap and hot water prior to starting to prep the produce. Another option is to use a whole new set of utensils and dishes when preparing any vegetables and fruits. Also, be sure to wash non-porous cutting boards in the dishwasher.

    So what about washing meat and poultry? It turns out that washing isn’t recommended for these foods. First of all, washing doesn’t remove all of the bacteria on raw poultry, beef, pork, lamb and veal. Furthermore, washing can cause bacteria to be spread to other surfaces in your kitchen, which in turn can mean that food that comes into contact with these areas becomes contaminated.

  • Instead, the best way to kill bacteria on meat and poultry involves cooking them until they reach a high enough temperature that will destroy the bacteria. Raw beef, veal, steaks, roasts and chops should be cooked until the internal temperature reaches at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit on a food thermometer that’s inserted into the meat. The meat should then rest for at least three minutes before you serve it. Ground meat, meat mixtures and poultry should be cooked until a food thermometer indicates the internal temperature has reached 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

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    Taking proper steps in preparing your food can ensure that you not only enjoy your food, but that the food doesn’t make you or a loved one ill. It’s definitely time well spent.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Kohnle, D. (2014). Health tip: Wash hands for food safety.

    Foodsafety.gov. (ND). Safe minimum cooking temperatures.

    U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2013). Washing food: Does it promote food safety?

    U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2013). Raw produce: Selecting and serving it safely.

Published On: April 24, 2014