Your kitchen is a breeding ground for bacteria. We're not trying to scare you, but bacteria from food is probably one of the main safety hazards in your kitchen. Other ones include slightly "off" foods, the dishcloths you're using, gas, pesticides, unsafe food storage, and more.
We recommend reading this list thoroughly and cross checking your kitchen set-up against these dangers. Are you in the habit of storing onions and potatoes together in your pantry? Do you keep all your fruits together because you love a properly organized fridge? Do you slide those trays of chicken breasts and steaks bare bottomed into your fridge?
If you're like most people, you lead a fairly busy life. You probably also assume a set of kitchen behaviors that mimic those of the people who taught you about cooking and housekeeping. Does that sound about right? How many times have you stopped to question your own cooking practices? Now's as good a time as any to turn a hairy eyeball to all those auto-pilot kitchen behaviors that help you save time but may be putting you and your family at risk.
Let's dig in, shall we?
Did you read this and feel a pang of guilt for that drawer full of knives that have never seen a sharpener in their lives? You're not alone. Unless you're really into cooking, the majority of people don't regularly sharpen their knives, if at all.
Dull knives are actually more dangerous than sharp ones. Why? Because on first contact, they don't slice right through, but rather tend to roll or slip. This is particularly risky if you're cutting softer foods, like raw meat and tomatoes, but also large round foods like cantaloupe and potatoes that can easily slip out from under your knife. Sharp knives make cutting and chopping faster, easier, and safer, so ensure you keep those kitchen knives regularly sharpened.
How to sharpen knives: use a handheld sharpener with a slot design, such as our Diamond Knife Sharpener, or go with a whetstone. Whetstones are a bit more involved and require some basic instruction, but once you've got the hang of it, a quality whetstone can last you a lifetime and keep all your kitchen knives safely honed for use. Check out our comprehensive guide here on everything you need to know about sharpening knives with a whetstone.
Unsightly green and white fuzz growing on your cheese? When I was a child, my mom always told me to just cut the moldy part off. After all, cheese is mold. I was okay eating mold if it didn't look like mold (blue cheese, anyone?), but once that green fuzz appeared, there was no turning back for me. Alas, my mother was of the generation that experienced a scarcity of food, so wasting food, even a bit of cheese, was utterly reproachable behavior, even if it had the potential to make you sick. And I was (am) of the generation in which talking back to mom or dad wasn't tolerated. If mom said eat it, I ate it.
Did you know that mold has tentacles? Yes, imagine that. These long, reaching, clawing limbs that inhabit food that's been sitting around for too long. In most cases, it's not safe to simply scrape, pick, or cut the mold off food, and those creepy tentacles are the reason. This is particularly true for soft foods, like bread, soft cheese, lunch meat, and jams and jellies. Those mold spores go much deeper and spread much further than our naked eye can see. While it might make the impact required to change your habits, we don't suggest putting food mold under a microscope. Yes it's science and an example of the fascinating process of life at an almost atomic level, but it's also gross for people who don't romanticize mold!
You can salvage hard foods like carrots, hard cheeses, and salami by simply cutting the mold off (like mom said), but ensure you're taking with it a generous buffer, at least an inch-sized portion not affected by mold.
What makes butter to go rancid? When butter is exposed to light and air, a chemical development occurs in which certain enzymes breakdown. Leaving your butter out on a plate on your countertop can accelerate this process, so it's a good idea to have a proper storage container for your butter, such as a butter crock or dish.
Is it safe to eat rancid butter? Let's put it this way: eating rancid butter won't kill you, but it won't taste very good, and it might produce some stomach upset. If you're unsure or brave enough to try it, rancid butter tastes slightly sour and it will be somewhat discolored. But why bother? Get a French butter crock and enjoy fresh, creamy butter whenever you want it! (It's also an attractive and somewhat romantic home for your butter in a country kitchen kind of way).
Dirty sponges not only look and smell gross, they're breeding grounds for all sorts of disease-causing bacteria, including salmonella. That's probably enough information to make you want to toss out all your sponges, but don't be too hasty. Leaving them a sopping wet mess in the sink creates most of the problem. Instead, rinse them well after use and squeeze out the excess moisture, allowing them ample time to dry. You can also sterilize your kitchen sponges by putting them in the microwave for a minute––but make sure they're thoroughly wet because you can probably guess the risk a dry sponge in a microwave poses––fire.
This one might surprise you. Obviously you're not going to eat a violently rotten apple or any other fruit for that matter. However, it holds true that one bad apple can spoil the bunch. Why? Ethylene gas.
Ethylene starts out as a hormone before it becomes a gas. It causes the soft, sweet, pungent droopiness that occurs when fruit becomes overripe. It also causes seeds or buds to sprout. Some fruits produce a lot of ethylene, while others are sensitive to it. For this reason, there are certain fruits and vegetables that shouldn't be stored together. Here's a helpful list:
High ethylene-producing foods:
Apples, apricots, avocados, bananas (ripe), blueberries, cantaloupe, cherimoyas, cranberries, figs, green onions, guavas, grapes, honeydew, kiwifruit, mangoes, mangosteen, nectarines, papayas, passion fruit, peaches, pears, persimmons, plums, potatoes, prunes, quince, tomatoes.
Asparagus, bananas (unripe), blackberries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, cucumbers, eggplant, endive, garlic, green beans, kale, leafy greens, leeks, lettuce, okra, onions, parsley, peas, peppers, raspberries, spinach, squash, strawberries, sweet potatoes, watercress, watermelon.
The Dirty Dozen.
Strawberries top the 2021 Dirty Dozen list, followed by other favorites like kale, spinach, and nectarines. These are the wholefoods that contain the highest amount of pesticide residue. It's important to wash these fruits and vegetables well with a produce wash or baking soda, keeping in mind that pesticides also affect the food's quality as those chemicals alter the plant's botanical purity. Check out the list below, and visit the US Department of Agriculture's Pesticide Data Program.
The 2021 Dirty Dozen List
We can't let this one slip by. It's one of those insidious, invisible dangers that could be lurking in your kitchen. Carbon Monoxide is an odorless gas that in moderate levels can cause headaches, nausea, and dizziness, but can be fatal at high levels. Combustion appliances, such as a gas stove, pose a risk if they are misused or not properly inspected and serviced. A good rule of thumb is to have your gas range professionally inspected once a year, and use a CO test kit or detector, which are available online or in hardware stores. Also, only use it for cooking, never as a heat source.
A safe kitchen is also a more creative and inspiring kitchen! Now you can whip up all sorts of delicious meals for your family knowing that your kitchen safety basics are covered.
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From our kitchen to yours, we wish you a cleaner, safer, risk-free kitchen this spring!