Ah, the feeling of independence when you finally live in a dorm, and can eat whatever you want. Dining halls, coffeeshops, and, most importantly, a kitchen (or some kitchen equipment) right in your room or suite. Late-night ramen, stress-baking cookies (like these) and midday omelettes (try out these tips if you’ve mastered the basic egg) are now the most exciting parts of your week. Regardless of whether you have a full kitchen or are mastering microwave cooking, you could be making food safety mistakes without knowing. It’s time to learn how to be clean in the kitchen.
1. Not cleaning your sponge
It sounds ironic, but your sponge is the dirtiest item in your kitchen (even dirtier than the toilet) and needs to be changed or sanitized regularly. Pop your sponge in the microwave for two minutes on full power (wet it first) to kill nasty germs. Before you microwave, make sure your sponge doesn’t have any metal. Leave it in the microwave for a few minutes to cool off before handling.
2. Not refrigerating foods that should be refrigerated
After a trip to the grocery store, putting away food becomes a struggle when your mom isn’t behind you telling you where to put everything. If you put a food in the wrong location, it could lead to spoilage, flavor loss and changes in consistency. This helpful Business Insider article gives a great list of which foods should be refrigerated and which should not.
3. Not reheating leftovers properly
Nothing’s better than bringing back leftovers from your weekend home, saving you a trip to the dining hall and giving you a delicious meal that you don’t have to cook. Not reheating food properly is one of the biggest food safety mistakes college kids make. Add a food thermometer to your Amazon shopping list and make sure your food reaches a safe internal temperature—poultry dishes should be heated to 165ºF before consuming. More info from the USDA here.
4. Not washing a fruit or vegetable before peeling or cutting it
Even if you remove the outer layer, the bacteria from the outside of fruit can spread, so it’s important to wash fruit before peeling. If you’re cutting produce, also make sure to wash it before, as the bacteria can get on your knife and move to the inside of the fruit as your knife cuts through. Cold water from your sink works to clean fruit and vegetables, decreasing the potential for a food safety hazard.
5. Eating raw cookie dough
You’ve heard it a million times, but I’m here to tell you again: don’t eat raw cookie dough. The eggs inside can contain salmonella, and as good as the dough tastes, it’s not worth the risk. If you just can’t stay away, try this recipe for raw cookie dough dip.
6. Leaving food out to cool and not refrigerating it immediately
Leaving food on the counter or stove while you eat is reasonable, but store any leftovers immediately after, as bacteria can grow within two hours if not refrigerated. It’s easy to forget about leftovers when you become distracted by homework, Netflix and life, so refrigerate them as soon as you can.
7. Keeping food past its expiration date
This may seem obvious, but as college students it may be tempting to use the expired milk if it smells ok and you’re desperate for some cereal. On one hand, the date may not mean the product is expired. On the other hand, if the food your about to eat is past it’s “use by” or “best by” date and it’s developed an off-flavor or odor, toss it. Better safe than sorry.