Paying attention to expiration dates and keeping raw meat away from other foods are well-known golden rules for safe cooking.
But speaking to DailyMail.com, food safety experts have warned that there are many more vital habits we should practice in the kitchen, but few Americans do.
Even seemingly harmless cooking habits, like ordering from a grocery delivery service like Instacart, are, according to a former FDA hygiene advisor, a recipe for an upset stomach.
About 48 million Americans suffer from foodborne illnesses each year. Some 128,000 end up in hospital, while 3,000 die, according to the CDC.
128,000 Americans are hospitalized each year due to foodborne illnesses, and many cases could be avoided with some simple lifestyle changes, experts say.
Examples of bacterial, parasitic and viral infections caused by food include salmonella, toxoplasma, listeria and norovirus, as well as E. coli.
The most common is norovirus, which affects one in 15 people each year, although all infections can cause serious illness and some can even be fatal.
Fortunately, two leading specialists have offered their essential advice to prevent you from having to go to the hospital.
DO NOT LEAVE FOOD OUT FOR TWO HOURS OR MORE
Leaving food out of the refrigerator for more than two hours can cause a dangerous drop in temperature, Dr. Darin Detwiler, a food safety expert at Northeastern University in Boston and former FDA food safety advisor, told DailyMail.com. and the USDA.
If the temperature of the food drops below 140 degrees Fahrenheit and is not refrigerated to 40 degrees F, it risks harboring insects such as salmonella and Staphylococcus aureus.
These infections can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and low blood pressure.
Dr. Detwiler suggests defrosting food in the refrigerator rather than on the counter to reduce this risk.
Food safety experts told DailyMail.com to avoid leaving food out for more than two hours, storing leftovers for more than four days and buying salad kits, among other tips.
SAY GOODBYE TO INSTACART
Grocery delivery services like Instacart, Shipt, and Amazon Fresh are convenient ways to shop if you don’t have time to visit the supermarket.
However, Dr. Detwiler says this shortcut carries risks.
If you’re not at the grocery store, it’s harder to spot telltale signs that food has gone bad.
Using grocery delivery apps like Instacart means you have less control over the quality of the food you get at the store.
For example, if a bag of spinach is full of air, it means the food is spoiled and bacteria is causing gas to form.
Dr. Detwiler says people don’t tend to check food that comes from a delivery like they do in the store.
“It may be convenient, but think about it, you’re basically handing over all the responsibility and decision-making at the grocery store to them,” Dr. Detwiler said.
“There are a lot of things we need to ask ourselves when we’re looking for indicators in the supermarket, and you can’t necessarily trust a stranger to do it for you.”
WEIGH FOOD BEFORE COOKING IT
Dr. Detwiler never cooks food without knowing how much it weighs.
This is because the time it takes to reach a safe temperature depends on how much the food, especially meat, weighs.
For example, if you cook two cuts of chicken of different sizes for the same amount of time, the larger one is more likely to be undercooked.
Toby Amidor, a dietitian and food safety expert in New York City, recommends using a meat thermometer to tell if food is fully cooked, especially large cuts of meat.
“Visual cues aren’t good enough to tell if meat, poultry and fish are cooked through, so I always use a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the food to tell if it’s done,” he told DailyMail . com.
AVOID PREPARED SALAD BAGS
“I will never eat one of those prepared salads from the supermarket,” said Dr. Detwiler. “It’s too risky.”
He said this is because bagged salads have been the subject of countless recalls in recent years, including dozens that were recalled earlier this year for possible listeria contamination.
Salads are made in processing plants, with large numbers of personnel creating opportunities for contamination.
Pathogens are known to thrive in such environments, while a lettuce carries no such risk.
Symptoms of listeria infection often include flu-like symptoms: chills, fever, pain, nausea, and vomiting. In high-risk populations, such as pregnant women, it can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, and death of the newborn.
Bags of pre-prepared salad are known to be at high risk for containing listeria, a potentially deadly insect.
HOW TO USE SMALL CONTAINERS
Storing food in large pots or trays could leave it vulnerable to germs, Dr. Detwiler said.
He gives the example of storing foods such as mashed potatoes and pasta, which are often kept in the refrigerator in the container in which they are prepared, covered with aluminum foil.
But this can affect the temperature of the food, because it cools at different rates, leaving the inner layers vulnerable to bacterial growth.
“Whether it’s a large piece of ham, a large roast or a large turkey, cut it into smaller portions and store them in the refrigerator or freezer,” Dr. Detwiler said.
Dr. Detwiler suggests placing foods like chili, soup, and sauces in shallow dishes, such as lasagna dishes or cake pans, so they cool evenly.
CHANGE CUTTING BOARDS AND UTENSILS
Using the same cutting board and knife for different foods could lead to the spread of bacteria like salmonella
Using the same knife and cutting board for different foods can be a recipe for cross contamination.
For example, cutting vegetables with the same knife you used for chicken could spread bacteria like salmonella, which commonly hides in animal products.
Dr. Detwiler recommends purchasing a new cutting board and utensils when you need to start preparing a different type of food rather than rinsing them, as traces of bacteria may remain.
Washing utensils, plates and prep utensils in the dishwasher is also a good idea to kill pathogens, due to the high temperatures, he said.
THROW LEFTOVERS AFTER FOUR DAYS
Bacteria can grow in food left in the refrigerator for more than four days
A large number of American workers prepare their meals at the beginning of the week, to save them the hassle after a busy day.
But experts say you should never prepare food a week in advance.
“Store leftovers in the refrigerator for only three or four days,” Dr. Detwiler said.
‘I hate the idea of someone preparing all the food on Sunday that will last until Friday or Saturday. It’s too long.’
After four days, bacteria can begin to grow, even if food is kept cold and safe in insulated containers.
Another option, Dr. Detwiler suggests, is to freeze food at the beginning of the week, which keeps it safe for longer.
BAN YOUR DOG IN THE KITCHEN
Pets carry certain bacteria that could contaminate food
Dr. Detwiler recommends keeping man’s best friend out of the kitchen while cooking.
If you are handling food and let your dog lick your hand, for example, you could contaminate the food with pathogens carried by pets.
One of the most common germs is Capnocytophaga, which does not make dogs or cats sick, but can cause blisters, fever, vomiting and diarrhea in humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
If your pet comes into the kitchen, avoid petting it until it has finished eating and washed its hands.
NEVER RINSE MEAT BEFORE COOKING
Never rinse meat, Amidor warns.
“Although people think that rinsing meat can help remove some of the bacteria from the meat, it actually increases the risk of contaminating the sink and countertop because everything splatters,” he said.
The USDA research found that a quarter of participants who washed raw poultry transferred that bacteria to the lettuce.
Soaking meat in salt water, also known as brining, adds flavor, but the USDA says it “serves no food safety purpose.”
MAKE SURE DAIRY IS PASTEURIZED
Dr. Detwiler recommends caution with foods that have not been pasteurized.
Although most products found in a grocery store are pasteurized, products from smaller farms and markets may not be and may harbor harmful pathogens.
Pasteurization involves sterilizing foods such as milk and eggs using heat, protecting them from germs and extending their shelf life.
Dairy products that have not gone through this process can cause diseases such as E. coli and salmonella, which can be deadly to vulnerable populations such as pregnant women and the elderly.
“There are outbreaks and recalls of unpasteurized milk products left and right,” Dr. Detwiler said.
“Those most vulnerable populations – the very young, the elderly, pregnant women or those who have a compromised immune system – are the ones who are most likely to end up in the hospital or dead.”