Well, not to put a damper on your upcoming holiday feast, but as friends and family gather in the coming days, it’s a good time to remind everyone of the germs that turkeys carry, and the importance of kitchen hygiene. Our home kitchens are the source for many foodborne infections. Turkeys naturally harbor bacteria like Campylobacter and Salmonella species, the latter also linked to a variety of non-turkey sources including vegetables and some bottled products. E. coli infections come from meat products and from fruits and vegetbables harvested in fields where cows have grazed. It’s impossible to prevent “contaminated” food from entering your kitchen because all fresh food has germs, but it is very possible to prevent the germs that come in on food from ever causing infections in you or your family.
The secret to healthy kitchen habits is twofold: proper cooking and cleaning of food; and proper disinfecting of the kitchen and everything in the kitchen used for food preparation (including you, the chef!). The highest counts of bacteria in the kitchen are found in the sink and sink drain, dish rags, mops, and sponges. When dish rags are also used to wipe down counter tops, the germs from the sink are spread to new surfaces. Salmonella species have been found in about 15% of sponges and dish rags in homes like yours. Raw and undercooked meat, poultry, and fish come into your kitchen containing the germs mentioned above, including E. coli O157:H7, salmonella, campylobacter, and pseudomonas, which then get on the hands of the chef. When cutting boards, faucets and countertops are then handled by the same food preparer, those dangerous germs stick to those new hiding places. Videotapes taken during studies of typical households routinely show some remarkable lapses in common germ sense. The towel used to wipe up juice from raw meat is then used to dry off washed hands; during food preparation, hands repeatedly go directly from food to face, and back again; a towel falls to the floor, is walked on, and is then picked up and used to wipe down the counter tops – and then is used to cover cooked meat waiting for dinner! The telltale study tapes also show that meatloaf, chicken, and fish were undercooked 35%, 42%, and 17% of the time, respectively.
Here are my top 5 rules for kitchen hygiene, taken from Germ Proof Your Kids – The Complete Guide to Protecting (without Overprotecting) Your Family from Infections (ASM Press, Washington, D.C., 2008):
Top 5 rules for kitchen hygiene
1. Nothing says food-poisoning as convincingly as “steak tartare”, “I’ll have mine rare”, “let’s do sushi”, or “it’s getting late for Thanksgiving dinner, the turkey’s probably done, let’s eat”. Cook all meats, poultry, and fish thoroughly.
2. Use bleach-containing products to disinfect surfaces that are likely to be heavily contaminated with germs. Disinfecting is better than simple cleaning in reducing germ counts.
3. Establish and adhere to a regular household cleaning schedule – clean heavily contaminated areas like the kitchen more frequently. Disinfect the surfaces in the kitchen immediately after putting the turkey in the oven, before preparing all the side dishes. Surfaces include countertops and the floor. Use disinfectant wipes on refrigerator, freezer, and oven door handles – and even on the telephone handset if you got a call while preparing the turkey!
4. Use common sense in cleaning and disinfecting your home. Sponges, dish rags, mops, and other cleaning tools can spread infection even more effectively than they eliminate germs if not used properly. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling all disinfecting supplies.
5. Use hot water whenever possible – for all cleaning and washing, including dishes, floors, and other surfaces. Wet is bad; dry is good. Always thoroughly dry everything that you’ve washed.