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5 Cleaning Mistakes You're Probably Making

11 Things in the Kitchen That Are Making You Sick

The kitchen is often called the heart of the home. It’s where we gather and prepare the food that keeps us well and healthy. However, as in other rooms of your home, there are dangers lurking in the kitchen that can make you sick. Some of the troublemakers can cause a few days of digestive upset but others can be deadly, especially to young children and to those with compromised immune systems. If you are feeling sick, it’s time to take a look around your kitchen and possibly change some habits.

One of the biggest health hazards in your kitchen is you and how you handle food. If food is not cooked and handled safely, bacteria can multiply rapidly, causing foodborne illnesses that can range from a few hours of digestive upset to death

01. Improper Food Handling

Are you guilty of any of these missteps?

  1. Undercooking Foods: Foods should be brought to the proper temperature needed to kill bacteria. Runny egg yolks, sushi, or raw cookie dough are particularly dangerous for young children or anyone with a weakened immune system.
  2. Leaving Leftovers at the Wrong Temperature: Improper food temperatures simply invite bacteria, yeast, and mold to thrive. Hot foods must be kept above 140 degrees F and cold foods should be stored below 40 degrees F. This includes foods that are being thawed or marinated. Never leave these foods out on the counter for extended periods. Thaw slowly in the refrigerator or more quickly in the microwave and use immediately.
  3. Using Unwashed Produce: All fresh produce should be washed before eating or using in cooking to remove bacteria and pesticides.
  4. Rinsing Off Raw Meat: Raw meats should not be washed before cooking. Washing or rinsing off raw meat in the sink simply spread any bacteria to sinks and counters. Cooking at a proper temperature will kill potentially harmful bacteria.
  5. Cross-Contamination Between Raw and Cooked Foods: Never use the same plate to marinate raw meats or take them to the grill that you use for serving the final product. At the grocery store, keep raw foods separate in the shopping cart from prepared foods. At home, store raw products in leak-proof bags and away from prepared foods in the refrigerator or pantry.
  6. Skipping Hand-Washing While Cooking: As you move through the food preparation steps, wash your hands frequently, especially after handling meats, eggs, and fresh produce.

02. Spoiled Food

Almost all of us have some food in the refrigerator or pantry that should be tossed. Eating or cooking with food that is past its safe storage time is extremely dangerous. If you are wary of a food, toss it out. Don’t taste it! Not all bacteria that can cause food poisoning can be tasted, seen, or smelled.

Preventing food poisoning begins when you shop. Select fruits and vegetables that are not bruised or show signs of insect damage. Don’t buy canned items that are swollen, dented, or rusted along the seams. Packed items should not have tears or show signs of stains from leakage.

03.Kitchen Towels

Fabric kitchen towels are an essential and a great way to reduce the use of paper towels. The danger comes if you are not washing them often enough and causing cross-contamination on kitchen surfaces. According to a study by the National Sanitation Foundation International, at least 75 percent of kitchen towels tested harbor coliform bacteria (Salmonella or E.coli).

Use separate towels for cleaning, food preparation, and hand washing. Wash the towels in hot water after each use.

04.Can Openers

Whether you use a manual or electric can opener, the blade is exposed to the contents of the can with every use. Cross-contamination between meat products, vegetables, and beverages can cause bacteria to grow.

Manual can openers should be washed in hot, soapy water after every use or, if dishwasher safe, placed in the dishwasher. For electric can openers, wipe the blade with a disinfectant wipe and dry completely to prevent bacterial growth.

05.Cutting Boards

Cutting boards make food preparation easier and protect our kitchen countertops. But with each cut, tiny scratches and nicks appear that can harbor bacteria. If you don’t use separate cutting boards for meat and raw fruits and vegetables, cross-contamination can have severe health consequences.

Wooden cutting boards should be washed after every use with hot, soapy water. Rinse well with hot water and dry with a clean cloth. Never place wooden boards in a dishwasher because they can be damaged. Glass or plastic boards should be placed in the dishwasher for a thorough cleaning.

06. Sponges

By definition, sponges, whether natural or man-made, are a porous structure. While those pores are great at absorbing spills, they are also quite adept at holding onto moisture and the bacteria that can thrive in that environment and cause illness.

Sponges should be washed in hot, soapy water and placed in a spot with good air circulation to dry after every use. They can also be cleaned on the top rack in an automatic dishwasher or tossed in the washer for a hot water cycle. If the sponge has a funky odor after cleaning, discard it immediately. The odor is a sign of excessive bacterial growth.

07. Knobs, Handles, and Touchpads

How many times each day are the knobs and handles on your kitchen cabinets touched? How about the refrigerator door handles and the touchpads on the microwave? Are everyone’s hands perfectly clean each time? Probably not.

Contamination from raw foods and body soil leave bacteria like Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli, as well as yeast and molds on the surfaces. Any of these organisms can cause digestive upset and some are extremely dangerous to young children and weakened immune systems.

After each food preparation session or at least daily, cabinet hardware, appliance handles, and control panels should be cleaned using a disinfectant wipe or spray-on disinfectant cleaner.

08. Gas Leaks and Carbon Monoxide

If you have kitchen appliances powered by natural or propane gas, it is extremely important to keep them functioning properly. Even a small leak or malfunctioning pilot light can have deadly consequences.

Natural and propane gas are odorless, but utility companies add a pungent odor to help you detect gas leaks. If you smell rotten eggs, immediately open the windows and make sure that appliances and pilot lights are turned off. Call the utility company and follow their instructions. If the smell is excessively strong, leave immediately and call emergency services from a safe distance.

A carbon monoxide leak is much more difficult to detect because it is completely odorless. Carbon monoxide is produced when fuel is burned and can be emitted from gas stoves and water heaters. If not detected, it can build-up indoors and cause headaches, flu-like symptoms, muscle weakness, and death.

The only certain way to know if carbon monoxide is building up in your kitchen is to install a carbon monoxide detector. If the carbon monoxide alarm sounds, immediately move to fresh air and call emergency services.

09. Plastic Containers

Plastic containers can be found in almost every kitchen. Unfortunately, not all of them are safe for food storage. Many older plastic containers contain bisphenol A or BPA, an industrial chemical. Studies are ongoing about the possible health effects of exposure to BPA on the brain and behavioral growth of fetuses, infants, and children.

There are ways to limit your exposure to BPA:

  • Select plastic products labeled as BPA-free and inspect recycle codes. Some plastics marked with the recycle codes three or seven may be made with BPA.
  • Opt for fresh foods over canned foods since most cans are lined with a resin containing BPA.
  • The National Institutes of Health advises consumers to avoid using polycarbonate plastics in the microwave or putting them in the dishwasher. The plastic may break down over time and allow BPA to leach into foods.

10. Microwave Popcorn

Eating microwave popcorn is not particularly hazardous to your health, but inhaling the burst of steam when opening a bag directly out of the microwave will cause you to inhale over forty chemicals. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pinpointed the worst substance, diacetyl, and leading brands have removed it from their products. However, it’s still unclear about the effects of other chemicals used in the manufacture of the bags.

To protect your family from potentially harmful damage to their respiratory systems, allow the bag to cool completely before opening or open under an exhaust fan.

11. Reusable Shopping Bags

Reusable shopping bags are great for the environment and may even give you a discount at the grocery store. But they do hold the potential for cross-contamination unless they have been cleaned and cared for properly.

It is important to label and designate shopping bags for specific items. Use one for cleaning supplies, one for raw meat, one for fresh fruits and vegetables, and one for packaged goods. Never leave dirty bags in a hot car where bacteria can thrive.

How Should You Clean Your Home After a Cold or Flu?

After you or your loved ones recover from a cold or other illness, it’s important to wash and sanitize all the utensils used.

The cough, sniffles and general malaise have finally subsided. Although the hard part’s definitely over, you still have some work to do to make sure that the germs are totally banished from your house. This is especially important if you live with other people, who almost definitely wish to avoid a sniffly, sneezy fate.

“If you’re sick, it does make sense to steer clear of household members as much as you can, though a strict quarantine is likely not necessary,” says Dr. Stacey Rose, assistant professor of medicine (infectious diseases) at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston in an email. “It should also be emphasized that [just] as important as household quarantine is making sure that you stay home from work or school when you are ill to prevent spread to others.”

Ideally, you have the wherewithal to stop the spread of germs by practicing excellent hygiene before, during and after your illness. Simple steps like covering your mouth when you cough, using a tissue when you sneeze and frequent, thorough hand-washing are ultra-important and more effective than you may realize.

“Different illnesses can be spread slightly differently,” Rose explains. “Some viruses are passed through the air or via respiratory droplets – meaning if I cough and you inhale the air near me, you can become infected. Other illnesses are passed through shared secretions – such as if I drink from a glass and then you drink from the same glass.”

So here are some actions you can teak to keep the cold or flu viruses from respreading in the home.

1. Practice Good Hand-Washing — Really

“Hand-washing is the single most important measure for preventing the spread of infection,” says Rose. Indeed, hand-washing can reduce the incidence of respiratory infection by 16-21 percent. And there are a number of “key moments” in which hand-washing is exceptionally important, such as during the food preparation process, when taking care of a sick person, after using the toilet, after blowing your nose/coughing/sneezing, and so on.

Unfortunately, although hand-washing isn’t hard, most of us cut corners when doing it. To make it effective, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says to do the following:

  • Wet hands with clean, running water. Temperature doesn’t matter.
  • Apply soap and work up a lather, making sure to include the areas between your fingers, under your nails and the backs of your hands. Scrub for a minimum of 20 seconds (about the amount of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice).
  • Rinse well under clean water, then either air dry your hands or use a clean towel.

2. Clean Hard Surfaces

Once the wave of nasty has passed you still have to take steps to prevent anyone else in the house (or visitors) from getting sick, or from having a recurrence yourself. The flu virus can survive on certain hard surfaces, like light switches and stainless steel, for up to 48 hours. Other types of viruses, like the stomach-lurching Norovirus, are much hardier, hanging around waiting to cause havoc for up to a couple of weeks!

To treat hard surfaces, like countertops, door handles and the kitchen table you can either use a store-bought disinfectant or diluted bleach, according to The Spruce cleaning expert Mary Marlowe Leverette. Spray the surface and allow to sit for three minutes. Then wipe away the solution (and hopefully all germs) with a clean, damp cloth. Run any kitchen utensils used by the sick person through the dishwasher on high heat before they enter back into household rotation.

3. Don’t Forget the Bathroom

The bathroom is another particularly critical area to sanitize, especially when a stomach bug is involved. During the illness, consider having the sick person use paper towels, or at least change out hand towels every day (and make sure not to use theirs).

Once everyone’s healthy again immediately wash bath rugs, towels and hand towels in hot water, and dry them on high heat. Periodically during and after the illness you should clean highly susceptible bathroom areas, like the toilet lid, seat and handle, the floor around the toilet, shower and sink handles, door knobs and light switches.

One common culprit for reinfection is something that’s supposed to keep you clean and healthy, but in this case can backfire — the toothbrush. So be sure to toss that out once symptoms have subsided and disinfect the holder thoroughly, as well.

4. … Or the Bedroom

As soon as possible after illness, Leverette says to wash the bed linens, as well as any pajamas or stuffed animals that were in close proximity to the ill individual. And clean off any other commonly used items, like the television remote control, books and bedside table items.

Can’t Keep up? 13 Habits that will Keep Your House Clean (Even if You have Kids)

Your toddler is a tipsy tornado. A pile of debris follows your son’s curious path.

You love that he is curious and explores the world, yet you cringe with every item he pulls out. Still another item for you to clean up.

By developing the following habits, the house can stay cleaner and you’ll save yourself some work.

  1. Pull the comforter to the pillows. Since the bed occupies a lot of space, it will make your room look so much cleaner—even if you don’t completely make your bed.
  2. Start the day with a load of laundry. When you get out of bed, put a load of clothes in the wash. Once breakfast is over, put the clothes into the dryer. Do a load of clothes every day.
  3. Dry your sink. Just after you dry your hands, take a few seconds to dry your bathroom sink. It will remove spots and keep it looking nice.
  4. Unload the dishwasher before breakfast. That way, when you dirty a dish, you can put it directly into the dishwasher. No dirty dishes pile up in the sink or on the counter. Turn on the dishwasher just before bed.
  5. Leave your shoes at the door. Shoes track in dirt, mud, grass, feces, debris, gum, leaves, and much more. If you take off your shoes by the entrance, you won’t need to clean the floors as often.
  6. Tidy the living areas just before dinner.  Give your kids practice helping out in the house and, afterward, reward them with a meal.
  7. After dinner, go straight to the bath. Having a regular routine prepares the body for sleep. A warm bath relaxes the muscles. After the bath, begin winding down and prepare for sleep. If you have kids, you can save time by having one parent wash the kids while the other parent washes the dishes.
  8. Prepare for the next day. Once the kids are asleep, lay out everyone’s clothes for tomorrow, prepare lunches, and do the prep work for breakfast and dinner. Pre-set the coffeemaker. Check your schedule for tomorrow. Set any items you need by the front door (or pack the car).
  9. Get rid of junk mail.  If you don’t want to receive “prescreened” offers of credit or unsolicited commercial mail, the Federal Trade Commission recommends that you contact the Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) FREE Mail Preference Service (MPS). This will reduce up to 80% of junk mail that comes to your door.
  10. Buy fewer items with packaging.  When you buy something in a package, you unpack it, sort it, recycle it or trash it, and then take it out to the garbage or recycling bin. The less packaging you buy, the fewer times you need to put it in the trash or recycle it.
  11. Go to a farmers market, use a grocery delivery service, or sign up for a CSA. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) allows you to get a box of produce (often organic) from a local farm for a low price. Where I live, it costs about $25 for a massive box of fruits and vegetables. Some areas will deliver a box of organic produce to your door for a small fee (in my area, the fee is $1.50).  Many of these CSAs will also deliver locally made bread, eggs, cheese, meat, poultry, pies, etc. There is so much food in these boxes, it is a real challenge to eat it all! And just think, no kids at a checkout line asking for candy!
  12. Have a weekly home blessing hour. Instead of “doing chores”, we “bless our home.” We set aside one hour every week to handle things like mopping. The change in mindset can help motivate you to clean when you’re not in the mood. If that’s not enough, FlyLady’s podcast will guide you through it step-by-step.
  13. Purge…ruthlessly. Every day, ask yourself, “What am I willing to let go of today?” Put one item (or more) into a box to give away. Have your kids do the same. Put a smiley face on the box, and tell them that every item that they put in there will make someone else happy.

The Right Way to Clean After a Household Illness

If someone in your house is suffering with a cold, flu or any type of contagious illness, a key responsibility right after getting them healthy is to prevent the illness from spreading to others in the home. Beyond frequent hand washing, proper cleaning is a first line of defense because some viruses can live on hard surfaces for up to two weeks.


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