There are few things that get my dad riled up, but there are two things that really get to him: artificially ripened tomatoes and defrosting chicken in the sink. There it would sit, package torn open, in the kitchen sink. Summer and winter. Regardless of whatever else we were using the sink for. In 30 years of marriage, my father failed to convince my mother to defrost the chicken by placing it, in the original packaging with a pan underneath, in the refrigerator the night before. She was not impressed by his statistics or his logic. She had her way of doing things and she stuck to it.
By the time I was in college, my father had more or less become a vegetarian. My roommate at the time was a microbiology major and even though I, too, was not going to eat the chicken in question, I couldn’t sit idly by while my mother broke every food safety rule. Using the same plastic cutting board with a quick rinse in-between. The year-old sponge was used to wash the dirty counters and our dishes. I wasn’t going to be eating the chicken, but I was going to be eating the chicken germs. I’d been reading non-stop about antibiotic resistant plagues and outbreaks of food poisoning and couldn’t understand why my obsessively clean mother was not swayed by my statistics and horror stories. There’s probably a hunk of frozen chicken in my mom’s kitchen sink right now.
I recall being sick to my stomach a lot as a kid, but nothing serious. Nowadays, I’m virtually impervious to foodborne illness. I’m also great at detecting what food is past it’s shelf life – there have been a couple times when I’ve decided I didn’t care for a dish, only to be the only one who didn’t get sick. I can’t understand how my friends can eat obviously spoiled food and trash perfectly good food by blindly following sell-by dates.
I still manage to get food poisoning once a year, usually within 72 hours of a holiday potluck. The stuff that really makes you sick is usually invisible and odorless. That’s why it’s important to keep food at the correct temperature and reheat leftovers thoroughly before eating them.
There’s always someone whose dish has been contaminated and not cooked thoroughly. Then it sits, unrefrigerated, for hours and is eaten without being reheated to a safe temperature. People will even repackage leftovers and bring them to other potlucks! I’m all about saving food, but what might give me the tummy rumbles could land someone else in the emergency room. Children, pregnant women, the elderly, and many other people have weak immune systems, putting them at serious risk for foodborne illness.
Food safety basics
- food preparation areas before and after
- food before preparing it
- your hands after touching anything that may be contaminated
Keep raw foods away from cooked or prepared foods
Don’t go by instinct to tell when things are cooked thoroughly. Use a food thermometer, know safe cooking temperatures, and wash the thermometer each time you use it.
Know how to properly store uncooked foods and leftovers. Many foods should be refrigerated. If your fridge has collected a bunch of mystery leftovers, try implementing a labeling system so you know what’s dangerously old.