Cook but don’t touch: Avoid food poisoning during the holidays

One thing we’ve learned from the pandemic is the importance of handwashing to fend off illness and germs. That lesson extends to the kitchen if you want to avoid food poisoning from an unexpected source.

We’ve heard these food safety warnings before. Don’t thaw frozen meat on the counter, never mix cutting boards and utensils that have come in contact with raw meat, and, tempting as it is, skip eating raw cookie dough.

But this might surprise you: A recent study found that spice containers can be covered in bacteria and that they’re easy sources for cross-contamination.

“It’s really important to wash your hands before you touch any of these items or really anything in the kitchen, especially if you’re handling raw meats,” said Consumer Reports Investigative Reporter Lisa Gill.

Consumer Reports says take the extra step and pour seasonings you plan to use into a separate dish beforehand. (Provided by Consumer Reports)

To play it safe, Consumer Reports says to take the extra step and pour seasonings you plan to use into a separate dish beforehand, then add them to what you’re cooking from there, discarding what you don’t use. You might also want to wipe down the containers after use.

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And don’t forget to wash your hands before you cook and scroll, too. Research has found that electronic devices are teeming with bacteria that can travel to everything you touch, including food.

“It’s equally important to wash your hands after you’ve handled raw meats, poultry, or seafood. Keep in mind salmonella and other bacteria can last on hard surfaces for several hours,” Gill warned.

So that means also washing any surface that has had direct or indirect contact with raw meat, like kitchen counters, garbage-can lids, refrigerator handles and cutting boards.

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Be mindful of your sponges, too, which can be hotbeds of bacteria. Sanitize them in the dishwasher or microwave wet ones for one minute. And if they start to smell, that’s your cue to throw them away.

One thing you should not wash is raw meat before cooking. Washing chicken and other meats could splash bacteria in your sink, on countertops, and nearby utensils or dishes. Consumer Reports says skip that step and save yourself some time.