Renewed attention has been given to food safety as fresh outbreaks of foodborne pathogens have caused thousands of people from around the country to fall ill. Some outbreaks have been linked to bacteria on salad products whereas others stem from meats that have been improperly handled. However, all are linked to coming into contact with contaminated products, and unfortunately, these could have been avoided if proper precautions were taken.
As food safety awareness continues to increase, one of the ways that people try to protect themselves is by rinsing produce and meat products before preparing meals. This makes sense, right? Washing items removes contaminants, including a variety of harmful microorganisms, from the surface and makes them safer to handle. However, in our zeal to stay safe, we’ve started to view rinsing as a one-size-fits-all solution, and it’s not. In fact, there are times when rinsing can actually increase the chances of spreading harmful bacteria.
Let’s take a closer look at when and when not to rinse in order to minimize the chances of spreading foodborne pathogens in the home.
Rinsing is a great way to remove surface contaminants from fruits and vegetables. As a general rule of thumb, all produce can be rinsed, but some varieties need additional processing to make them safe to handle and eat. For example, non-leafy produce that has an outer skin should be rinsed and rubbed for around 20 seconds. However, items without skin should be soaked for a minute or so before rinsing. This will help water to get deep into nooks and crannies and lift off remnants of things such as debris, pesticides, parasites, bacteria and even small bugs.
However, it’s important to note that the soaking water will become contaminated with whatever items have fallen off of the food. So, make sure to give them a good rinse afterward to ensure that you’ve removed as many contaminants as possible.
Beans and Rice
Beans should be rinsed, soaked and then rinsed again before preparation. This will help to remove surface contaminants and prevent the beans from soaking up contaminated water. The final rinse is just an extra layer of protection to ensure that any remnants are removed before cooking or serving. Wild or whole grain rice should always be soaked for at least a couple of hours before thoroughly rinsing in order to reduce levels of toxins that are commonly-found in soils where they grow.
As a general rule of thumb, avoid rinsing meat or poultry products. While this was the standard way of doing things for years, it’s well-established that rinsing actually does more harm than good. The bacteria that is found on the outside of meat can not be rinsed off, it needs to be cooked. Rinsing also causes bacteria to splatter all over the prep area or kitchen, and this can increase the chances of exposure. However, it is imperative that we thoroughly wash our hands immediately after handling uncooked meat.
It’s also a good idea to make sure that counter tops, cutting boards and prep areas are thoroughly cleaned and sanitized before and after working with fresh or raw food. This will help to minimize the chances of cross-contamination, and this is important because cross-contamination is the leading cause the spread of foodborne illnesses.
Finally, it’s important to make sure that meat products are cooked thoroughly before serving. As mentioned earlier, bacteria on meats usually need to be exposed to high temperatures for a certain amount of time before they get killed off.
Take a closer look at food safety and what you can to do minimize risk. It’s also important to think about how you will address food safety during a crisis or survival situation, and incorporate solutions into your preparedness efforts. At the end of the day, all it takes is a little bit of attentiveness and patience to reduce the chances of being exposed to foodborne pathogens, but it’s up to us to ensure that we are taking proper precautions along the way.