- Meat and Poultry
- Fish and Shellfish
- Cream and Cream Products
- Eggs and Egg Whites
- Ice Cream
- Dairy Spreads
- Fruit, Fruit Products
- Sauces, Dressing, and Dips
- Condiments, Herbs & Spices, Spreads
- Ingredients for Cooking
- Prepared Foods
- Bakery Goods and Sweets
- Grains, Pasta, and Cereal
- FAQs on Bacteria
- What are bacteria?
- How can I avoid getting sick from a bacterial illness?
- How dangerous is a staph infection?
- Can I assume that if food smells bad its unsafe to eat and if it smells ok that it is safe to eat?
- How dangerous is botulism?
- How dangerous is listeria?
- How many types of bacteria are there?
- What foods are likely to be contaminated by listeria?
- What foods can give a person a staph infection?
- What foods can give a person botulism?
- Why do some bacteria make people sick?
- Why does refrigeration keep bacteria from multiplying?
- Can I avoid all contact with bacteria if I’m careful?
- How Many Bacteria Does It Take to Cause Illness?
- FAQs on Cookware
- Are Ceramic and Enamel Cookware Safe and Practical?
- Are Nonstick Coatings on Cookware a Health Risk?
- Do Cast Iron, Glass, Copper, and Titanium Cookware Have Any Disadvantages?
- Does Using Aluminum Cookware Increase the Chances of Developing Alzheimer’s Disease?
- Is Stainless Steel Cookware a Good Choice?
- Is the New Silicone Rubberized Cookware Safe?
- Nonstick Cookware: Is it Dangerous?
- What Brands of Cookware are Recommended by Experts?
- What Features Should I Look for When Selecting Cookware?
- What Should I Know about Selecting and Using Aluminum Cookware?
- FAQs about Definitions
- Exactly what is meant by the phrase perishable food?
- Defining Some Current Language about Food
- What Does the Word “Foodie” Mean? It Depends Who(m) You Ask
- What do “sell by,” “best by/before,” “use by” and “expiration” mean?
- What does the term shelf life mean?
- What's in Our Food? Maybe Processing Aids, Maybe not
- “Fresh,” “Natural,” “Processed”—What Do These Words Mean?
- FAQs on Dropped Food
- FAQs on Farmers' Markets
- Exactly what defines a farmers’ market?
- Farmers' Markets: Why They're So Popular; How to Find One Near Your Home
- How should I handle produce at home?
- What foods are sold with restrictions at a farmers’ market?
- What should I bring to the farmers’ market?
- What shouldn’t I do or eat at a farmers’ market?
- What signs indicate a sanitary farmers’ market?
- What time of day is it best to go to a farmers’ market?
- FAQs on Food-borne Illness and Mishandling of Food
- About how many cases of food-borne illness occur in the U.S. each year?
- Answer Key to “How Much Do You Know about Safe Handling of Food?”
- How Much Do You Know about Safe Handling of Food?
- I Left It Out Too Long! Can I Still Eat It?
- Should Your Grocery Card Track Food-Borne Illnesses?
- Sudden, Awful Intestinal Distress--Is it the Flu or a Foodborne Illness--or Both?
- What YOU Can Do to Avoid Food-borne Illness
- What does the phrase food-borne illness refer to?
- FAQs on Food Product Dating
- Are stores required, by law, to remove outdated items from their shelves?
- Do most consumers actually pay attention to the dating on foods?
- Does the “use by” date matter once the product is frozen?
- Is information on food longevity and safety available by phone?
- What are expiration dates?
- What do the terms closed dating and open dating mean?
- What if there is no date on a product, and I don’t remember if I bought it a month ago or ten years ago?
- What should consumers know about food product dating?
- When Did You Buy It? When Did You Open It?
- When to Throw Food Out? Not on the Use-By Date
- Who establishes these product dates?
- Who requires and regulates dating on foods?
- Why do “best by” and “use by” dates sometimes seem conservative?
- FAQs on Food Safety
- "Is It Safe To….?" FAQs Answered by our Advisory Board
- FAQs about Ground Beef, Seasonings, Olive Oil, Lemon Wedges, and Fish
- FAQs about Mushrooms: Are they Very Dirty or Very Clean?
- FAQs about Soft Cheeses--What's Safe, What Isn't
- FAQs on BPA: the attacks continue, but are they justified?
- FAQs on Food Safety and Nutrition
- FAQs on Raw Fruits and Veggies—the Answers Can Protect Your Wallet and Your Health
- FAQs: Cutting Boards and Kitchen Counters--Selection and Care
- Food Bars/Buffets in Supermarkets--Is the food safe? How can you tell?
- Food/Meat Thermometers—What You Need to Know
- How Long Should Cheese Be Aged? Will the Rules Be Changed?
- How Long Will They REALLY Last? Part I: Non-perishables
- How Long Will They REALLY last? Part II: Perishables
- Imported Foods—What’s Safe, What’s Risky?
- Is It Safe? Is It Nutritious? More Survey Answers from Scientists
- Is It Time to Switch to Pasteurized Eggs?
- Is the Food Safety Modernization Act Making Our Food Supply Safer?
- More FAQs about Minimum Safe Cooking Temperatures: Pork and Other Perishables
- Sushi: Why Such a Short Shelf Life?
- Winter Food Storage—Can I leave It in the Car or in the Garage?
- Would You—Should You—Do You--Eat Irradiated Food?
- FAQs on Food Wrapping
- Are any plastic wraps or containers really “microwave safe”?
- Are some plastic wraps more effective than others?
- Can I refrigerate meat and poultry in its store wrapping?
- Can I use plastic freezer bags to store produce in the fridge?
- Can chemicals leach unto food from plastic wrap or containers?
- Do coated plastic bags really help produce last longer?
- Does aluminum foil give foods a metallic taste?
- Does exposure to aluminum cause Alzheimer’s disease?
- Everything You Need to Know about Wrapping Food Right
- How should fruits be wrapped before refrigeration?
- Is it safe to use aluminum foil in a microwave oven?
- Should I wrap raw vegetables loosely or tightly before refrigerating?
- What are some advantages and disadvantages of aluminum foil?
- What produce needs to be wrapped before refrigerating?
- What’s better for wrapping food—plastic or aluminum foil?
- Why does foil sometimes darken, discolor, and leave black specks on food?
- Will a foil cover help keep foods on the table hot or cold?
- FAQs on Freezing Food
- FAQs on Leftovers
- FAQs on Mold
- What is mold?
- Does mold ever grow on nonperishable food?
- Can I remove a moldy part from food and eat the rest?
- About how many different kinds of molds are there?
- How can I avoid getting mold on my refrigerated food?
- Is mold always visible?
- Are any molds harmless?
- What food groups are most susceptible to mold?
- What kinds of illnesses can result from eating moldy food?
- What kind of packaging protects foods from mold?
- What other safety tips will help prevent mold from growing?
- Why are some molds dangerous?
- FAQs on Organic Food
- What Is Organic Food?
- Are Organic Methods More Humane to Animals?
- Does Conventional Food Have a Longer Shelf Life Than Organic?
- Does Organic Food Taste Better than Conventional Food?
- Is Organic Food More Nutritious Than Conventional Food?
- Is Organically Grown Food Better for the Environment?
- What Do the Various Organic Labels Mean?
- What Important Contributions Has the Organic Movement Made?
- Which Are Safer: Organic or Conventional Food Products?
- Will Organic Baby Food Make Baby Healthier?
- FAQs on Oxidation: How It Affects Foods
- FAQs about Plastic Products Used with Food
- Pyrex® Glassware: Is it safe to use?
- Are plastic bags safe to use in the microwave?
- Are some plastic wraps safer and/or more effective than others?
- Are there any health risks from reusing plastic water bottles by refilling them with tap water?
- Are we eating chemicals from plastics along with our food?
- Can I microwave food in my plastic containers?
- Does the plastic used in water bottles pose a health risk?
- If I heat food in an open can, will that cause the plastic lining to leach chemicals into the food?
- Is it safe to heat frozen entrées in their plastic containers and with their plastic wrap?
- Is it safe to use plastic wrap as a covering when microwaving food?
- Is it safe to wash and dry plastic plates, cups, containers, and utensils in the dishwasher?
- Is there good evidence that BPA is harmful to human health?
- Of the plastic products used to store, heat, or eat with (wraps, bags, containers, silverware, plates, etc.), which contain BPA?
- What is BPA?
- Why is so much of today’s food packaged in plastic?
- FAQs on Preservatives
- What are Preservatives?
- All things considered, is our food supply safer or less safe because of preservatives?
- Are the preservatives in hot dogs and similar products health risks?
- What preservatives are known to cause allergic reactions?
- What are some common preservatives used in food?
- What food groups commonly have preservatives in them?
- Why are preservatives added to food?
- Will the label on the product tell me if it contains a preservative?
- FAQs on Washing Produce: Why and How
- Other FAQs
- Can chicken soup really cure a cold?
- Is Chocolate Good For You?
- Can Science and Technology Help You Save Food Dollars?
- FAQs Answered By Our Board Scientists: on Chickens, Bananas, Old Salad Dressing, and More
- FAQs about Food Price Increases
- FAQs about Products We Use with Food
- FAQs about Shelf Life: Tortillas, Pancakes, Wine, and More
- Food Fraud: Are you paying for scallops and getting shark meat?
- Is Cheese Addictive? Only If You Eat It
- Missing Chickens: Where Have All the Small Ones Gone?
- Nine FAQs about Food Labels
- Quiz Yourself! Check Your Knowledge about Food Temperatures
- Scientists Answer Two FAQs about Egg Safety
- Should Sour Cream and Cottage Cheese Be Stored Upside Down?
- Some Shelf Life Info, General and Specific (Spirits, Defrosted Veggies, Green Tea, and More)
- Syrup from a Tree or from a Lab--Which Should You Pour on Your Pancakes?
- Ten FAQs about the Prickly Pineapple
- What's New in Food? IFT Expo Offers Tasty Innovations
- What's on the Menu in Cuba?
- What’s in My Water? Answers to FAQs
- What will you be dining on this year? Here are predictions from folks in the know
- FAQs on Bacteria
- Books: Food for Thought
- Food Safety
- It Says "Use By Tomorrow," But You Don't Have To
- Ten Tips for Consumer Food Safety
- Food Allergies: Recognizing and Controlling Them
- “Is It Spoiled?” When in Doubt, Check It Out
- How To Keep Your Cooler Cool
- Recent Recalls: Salmonella Threatens 100s of Products
- STOP! Don’t Rinse That Raw Chicken!
- Sous Vide—A Better Way to Cook?
- Why You Need a Safe Cooking Temperature Chart and How to Get One Right Now
- “Myth-information” about Food Safety: You’d Better Not Believe It
- After The Storm: What You Can Save and What You Must Throw Out
- How to Protect Your Food During a Power Outage
- Meet Your Beef--Via Bar Code Info
- Organic Food, GMOs, the Safety of American Food, the Value of Use-By Dates, and More--Scientists Tell Us What They Think
- Raw chicken, Leftovers, Deli Meats, and More-- What Surveyed Scientists Said
- Tips About 4 Popular Beverages: Wine, Coffee, Water, and Soda
- Tips on Reheating for Safe, Yummy Leftovers
- Tips on Water Safety During and After a Storm
- Introducing our Advisory Board Scientists
- Produce: Handling Tips
- Seasonal Tips
- A Novel Method for Cooking a Turkey
- Crock Pot Cooking Tips for that Ideal Winter Dinner
- Cucumbers: for Cool--and "Cool"--Summer Treats
- Going Away for All or Part of the Winter? Prepare Your Kitchen for your Absence
- How To Grill Safely During the Summer
- How do summer squash and winter squash differ?
- New Year’s Resolutions For a Safer Kitchen
- Preserve the Taste of Summer by Canning—But Do It Safely
- Summer Food Fests Offer Much More than Calories
- Summer Party Tips: Baby Carrots (Using for Dips) Hot Dogs (Ditching the Guilt), and Watermelon (Finding a Ripe One)
- Tailgating: How to Do It Right
- Tips on Keeping Your Summer Fruits Flavorful and Healthy
- Shelf Life Tips
- A Food App You're Apt to Like; A Brand-New Invention for Getting Shelf-Life Information
- Battling the Ripening of Bananas
- Food Preservation--Low-tech Past, High-Tech Present and Future
- From Purchase to Storage, Tips on Extending Shelf Life
- Pesto: Ingredients, Uses, Shelf Life, Contamination, and More
- Shelf Life of Foods: What You Need to Know
- Shellfish and Shelf Life Aid from the Canadian Maritime Provinces
- Tips for Carry-along Lunches for Work and School
- Tips for Freezing Food and Freezer Care
- Cooking Frozen Foods
- Freezers And Food Safety
- Freezers And Freezer Burn
- Freezers And Nutrient Retention
- How Often Should You Defrost And Clean Your Freezer?
- How To Defrost And Clean Your Freezer
- How To Defrost Frozen Foods
- How To Freeze Foods: The Quicker The Better
- How To Wrap Foods For The Freezer
- Refreezing Frozen Foods
- What You Can Freeze And What You Can't--Or Shouldn't
- Tips About Genetically Engineered Foods
- Tips for Grocery Shopping
- Tips for Holidays
- Answers to Questions about Thanksgiving Dinner
- Chocolate Is Even More Healthful Than You Thought
- Enjoy St. Patrick’s Day Without Cabbage Stink
- Everything You Need to Know about Cranberry Sauce
- Food-Related Gifts Recommended by Experts (2014)
- Halloween Treats Even Parents Will Love
- Kitchen Gifts that Really Please
- Kitchen Gifts that Really Work
- Our 2016 List of Gifts To Please Every Cook
- Spring Celebrations: What’s on Your Menu?
- Suggestions for Handling Your Child’s “Trick or Treat” Treasures
- Tips for Winter Holiday Meals
- What NOT to Do With Thanksgiving Dinner
- Yikes! The Turkey Is Done, But the Guests Are Delayed! How Do I Keep My Thanksgiving Dinner Warm?
- Tips on Kitchen Equipment
- Tips for Refrigerating Food and Refrigerator Care
- Food Safety Facts
- How To Clean The Refrigerator
- How To Wrap Foods For Refrigeration
- How long can a pie be left unrefrigerated?
- Power Outage? Here’s What to Do with All That Food in the Fridge
- Proper Handling Of Produce In The Crisper(s)
- Proper Refrigeration Placement Of Raw Meat, Chicken, And Fish
- Six Tips for Extending the Shelf Life of Foods
- What Can and Can't Go In The Fridge Door
- Other Tips
- Microwave Cooking
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- Food Definitions: Umami, Locavore, Fruit, Heirloom, and Artisan
- Hot Dogs: What You Should Know about Them
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- In Defense of Processed Food
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- Organic Farming and Organic Food: What Are the Benefits?
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- Ten Exotic Fruits: Novel Treats to Drink and Eat
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Kitchen Safety: Bags, Bottles, and Beyond
When we think kitchen food safety, the following seven unsafe practices may not come to mind. They should. Do you avoid them? Please do!
1. Using non-food grade materials
Just because a material looks like a suitable food container doesn't make it safe for food. Four common non-food grade items we should avoid using include the following.
-Brown paper bags for cooking
Here's what the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says about this practice:
"Do not use brown paper bags from grocery or other stores for cooking. They are not sanitary, may cause a fire, and can emit toxic fumes. Intense heat may cause a bag to ignite, causing a fire in the oven... . The ink, glue, and recycled materials in paper bags can emit toxic fumes when they are exposed to heat. Instead, use purchased oven cooking bags." www.fsis.usda.gov/OA/pubs/altroute.htm
USDA also advises, "These bags may not necessarily be sanitary, particularly since they may be stored under a variety of conditions." www.fsis.usda.gov/oa/pubs/meatpack.htm
-Garbage cans for cooking
Garbage cans weren't developed for cooking. It is especially dangerous cooking in galvanized garbage cans as they contain toxic metals that can leach into food.
-Film canisters for food storage
If a product isn't sold to hold food, don't use it for this purpose. A commonly used non-food item is film canisters. Use small food storage containers instead.
-Plastic trash bags for food storage
The use of plastic trash bags for food storage or cooking is not recommended by USDA "... because they are not food grade plastic and chemicals from them may leach into the food."
2. Reusing one-time-use items
While some items should not be used with foods, others should be used only ONCE, and then for their intended purpose. For example, USDA states:
"Plastic wrap, foam meat trays, convenience food dishes, and egg cartons have been approved for a specific use and should be considered one-time-use packaging. Bacteria from foods that these packages once contained may remain on the packaging and thus be able to contaminate foods or even hands if reused." www.fsis.usda.gov/OA/pubs/meatpack.htm
Other items that were developed with the intention of single use include these four articles:
-Single-use plastic water bottles
It is better to buy a reusable water bottle and use that instead of reusing a bottle in which water is sold. The plastic water bottles in which water is sold are intended for single service. They are hard to clean and dry and are not meant for multiple cleanings. They may not hold up under the hot water and cleansing needed to remove lipstick, etc.
-Disposable plastic utensils, cups and containers
This category includes plastic forks, spoons and knives; plastic cups; and containers from cottage cheese, sour cream, chip dip, margarine, milk, etc. These items are not made of materials designed for repeated use or repeated cleaning with hot soap and water. Cups and containers may have edges that curl over and collect bacteria that cannot be cleaned out. These containers are developed for specific types/temperatures of foods and may not stand up to all foods, such as high acid and/or hot foods.
-Single-use wooden items
Some wooden food-related items, such as popsicle sticks and shish kabob skewers, are intended for one-time use. If you want to reuse shish kabob sticks, buy the metal ones. Rather than reuse popsicle sticks, purchase one of the containers for making popsicles that comes with reusable handles. Or, use a new purchased popsicle stick every time.
-Lids with non-cleanable liners
Glass jars can be cleaned and reused; however you must be careful of reusing the lids. Lids with a non-cleanable liner, such as a waxed cardboard liner, should not be re-used.
3. Mis-using materials in the microwave
Microwave your food in safe ways using safe containers. USDA advises:
"Microwave food in packaging materials only if the package directs, and then use only one time. Materials suitable for microwaving include oven bags, wax paper and plastic wrap. Do not let the plastic wrap touch the food, and do not reuse the wrap."
"Foam insulated trays and plastic wraps on fresh meats in grocery stores are not intended by the manufacturer to be heated and may melt when in contact with hot foods, allowing chemical migration into the food. In addition, chemical migration from packaging material to a food does not necessarily require direct contact. Excessive heat applied to a closed container may drive off chemical gases from the container that can contaminate the enclosed food."
"These types of plastic products should not be used in a microwave oven because they are subjected to heat when thawing or reheating. To avoid a chemical migration problem, remove meats from their packaging." www.fsis.usda.gov/OA/pubs/altroute.htm
"An article on "Plastics and the Microwave" in FDA Consumer magazine states, "... carryout containers from restaurants and margarine tubs should not be used in the microwave, according to the American Plastics Council. Inappropriate containers may melt or warp, which can increase the likelihood of spills and burns. Also, discard containers that hold prepared microwavable meals after you use them because they are meant for one-time use."
The FDA article cautions: "Microwave-safe plastic wrap should be placed loosely over food so that steam can escape, and should not directly touch your food. Some plastic wraps have labels indicating that there should be a one-inch or greater space between the plastic and the food during microwave heating."
"Always read directions," advises FDA, "but generally, microwave-safe plastic wraps, wax paper, cooking bags, parchment paper, and white microwave-safe paper towels are safe to use. Covering food helps protect against contamination, keeps moisture in, and allows food to cook evenly. Never use plastic storage bags, grocery bags, newspapers, or aluminum foil in the microwave."
4. Using mercury thermometers
Get rid of old mercury thermometers, but don't just throw them away. Take them to a household hazardous waste collection site.
Mercury thermometers are identifiable by the silver bulb at the bottom and silver coloring in the temperature indicator area. Thermometers with a red or blue liquid do NOT contain mercury. The danger is if a mercury thermometer breaks, toxic fumes are released and the mercury contaminates the area in which it is spilled. It's very difficult -- and EXPENSIVE -- to effectively clean spilled mercury. Replace these thermometers with non-mercury thermometers.
5. Mis-using hard-to-clean items
Today, many families are busy rushing and running. Utensils that once were cleaned thoroughly after each use may get set aside. Cleaning is neglected or delayed. Consider these four items:
When purchasing a metal whisk, some of the easiest ones to clean are stainless steel whisks with their wires attached to the handle with a watertight seal. They don't rust, and food particles don't get trapped in the handle.
As an aside, a whimsical apron sighted on the Internet identifies the wearer as being involved with "Home Cooked Security" and holding the position of "Director of Whisk Assessment."
-Pastry and basting brushes
Use food grade pastry and basting brushes rather than paint brushes. Paint brushes may not have been treated to be acceptable for food use and/or their design may not be conducive to thorough cleaning.
Avoid cross contamination when using food brushes. For example, don't baste raw meat and then use the same brush on the cooked meat or another food that will not be cooked. Also, it is a good practice to use a different brush for pastry than the one used for basting meats. Wash brushes in hot soapy water and rinse well after each use or run through the dishwasher if dishwasher-safe.
Vegetable brushes are designed for scrubbing hard-surfaced vegetables and fruits, such as melons, cucumbers and acorn squash. Clean them thoroughly after each use. The easiest method is to run them through a dishwasher if they are dishwasher safe. Otherwise, clean them with hot soapy water and rinse with hot water or run through the dishwasher if dishwasher-safe.
Sponges are hard to keep clean for use on food contact surfaces, such as dishes and countertops. Sponges provide an ideal location for bacteria to grow. Bacteria thrive in the warmth, moisture and food collected on sponges.
Sponges should be cleaned and dried after each use and changed frequently. While the recommendation is sometimes made to heat WET sponges in the microwave, the guidelines are not precise and there is a possibility of fire.
Dishcloths are easier to keep clean than sponges and can be purchased very inexpensively. A clean one can be used every time a person does the dishes or wipes the counter. Launder dishcloths in the washing machine in hot water and dry in a hot dryer. Or, use paper towels. A third possibility is to use a combination of paper towels and dishcloths. Some people find it easier to wipe up small spills and clean small areas with a paper towel and to use a dishcloth for cleaning larger areas.
6. Re-using items that should be laundered
Dishcloths and dish towels should be washed after use. Wet or damp dish towels and cloths are ideal environments for bacterial growth. Allow them to air dry before tossing them into a laundry basket. Have a good supply so it is not necessary to re-use them before laundry day.
7. Using damaged items that can't be cleaned
Cutting boards, whether plastic or wood, should be tossed once they contain deep cuts or grooves that cannot be easily cleaned. Discard damaged wooden and nylon utensils that have cracks or melted surfaces.
Alice Henneman, MS, RD, Extension Educator & Dietitian
University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County