Nothing we eat is 100 percent safe, but there are easy ways to cut your risk of getting sick. The July 2012 issue of ShopSmart magazine, from the publisher of Consumer Reports, features an easy three-step guide with simple tips that can improve your food-cleaning and storing know-how.
"Food safety is something that everyone should take seriously - one small mistake could get you or your family very sick," said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart. "We're giving you tools that can help prevent food-borne illnesses from purchase through storage."
ShopSmart's Three-Step Guide to Food Cleaning
Step 1 : Buy the right tools. A few inexpensive gadgets can help you clean dangerous bacteria that a quick rinse won't do. Remember to keep these tools clean by running them through the dishwasher. Or wash them with hot, soapy water and dry with a paper towel or clean cloth. Always be sure to wash your own hands thoroughly, too.
- Colanders make cleaning fruits and veggies easier. You can use lots of running water and they help keep produce clear of any bacteria that may have been left behind by other foods such as raw meat. Look for a self-standing model that is dishwasher-safe and has lots of holes for fast draining.
- Vegetable brushes help you get into the grooves and crevices of root veggies and other hard produce. Choose one that fits your hand and is comfortable to use and get a gentler nylon scrubber for tender fruit such as plums.
- Salad spinners wash and dry lettuce - saving on paper towels and eliminating the risk of using a potentially contaminated cloth. Pick one that is dishwasher safe, free of bisphenol A, and spins well with little effort.
Step 2 : Get the cooties off. All fruits and veggies need proper washing to get the dirt and pesticide residues off. Here's how to clean some common kitchen ingredients.
- Leafy greens. For lettuce, cabbage and other leafy greens, throw out the outside leaves where dirt and bacteria lurk. Separate remaining leaves and wash individually, rubbing gently to dislodge soil and bacteria. Use paper towels or use a salad spinner to remove excess moisture.
- Herbs. Place herbs and greens with smaller leaves in a clean colander under running water; toss them around to ensure that all surfaces get a good rinsing. If greens are particularly dirty, loosen dirt and sand by swishing them in a clean bowl of water (not the sink), then rinsing. Dry thoroughly.
- Peelable produce. Even smooth-skinned fruits that you plan to peel should be washed, especially with mangoes and papayas, which have been associated with disease outbreaks. But dirt can be transferred to any fruit once cut, so rub all produce gently with your hands under running water for 30 to 60 seconds, then dry thoroughly. Apples, cucumbers and other firm, peelable produce can be washed under running water with a veggie brush before peeling or eating.
Step 3 : Store it right. Your fridge isn't always the safest spot to stash fruits and veggies. Here's how to avoid some big food-storage mistakes.
- Clean your fridge weekly. Toss out spoiled food and sop up any spills or leaks immediately. And don't reuse that sponge or cloth until you've washed it - you can sanitize sponges in the dishwasher.
- Chill cut produce. Refrigerate any fruit or vegetable once it has been cut - bacterial risk goes up with peeling and cutting. And don't let the produce linger too long even in the fridge - some of the most dangerous bacteria, such as listeria, can grow there.
- Stop cross-contamination. Keep cut-up stuff in clean plastic bags or covered containers and store drippy raw meat on the lowest rack - make sure it's on a plate and sealed properly; double-wrap it if necessary.