5 Gross Food Safety Mistakes You Didn’t Know You Were Making

Your delicious and healthful meal might taste amazing, but your preparation of the meal, and the way you’re storing it, could spell trouble down the road. Even if you’re well aware of safe food practices while cooking, you could be making mistakes when cleaning your meats, thawing frozen items, or even packing up leftovers. And these mistakes could lead to a breeding ground for bacteria. Millions of people a year are affected by foodborne illness, and correcting these common food safety mistakes could keep you from joining them. Here are the top five mistakes you’re probably making in food preparation and storage that you need to correct immediately.

1. Using the marinade for raw meat on cooked food

Raw turkey meat

Don’t eat the marinade you used on your raw food. | iStock.com

Marinating your steaks, seafood, and chicken is a great way to make them delicious, but make sure you throw away the marinade you used for raw meat once you start cooking. Eat Right explains that, unfortunately, it’s quite common for home cooks to douse their delicious cooked meats in the marinade that they were using before the cooking process began, which means the bacteria from the raw meat is now all over your cooked protein, too.

It’s also important to note that you should never marinate your raw meats or fish on the countertop. Dangerous bacteria grow between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, so allowing your raw meats to sit at room temperature means harmful germs could be spreading fast. Place your raw meats in a sealable plastic bag with your marinade, then place it in a small bowl in the fridge. This will keep your meats cold and the marinade contained.

2. Not allowing meats to rest

Fresh grilled skewers with a vegetable medley

Let your meat rest so it can continue to cook. | iStock.com

Letting your cooked meats rest after they’ve been on the grill or in the oven allows the juices in the meat to redistribute, giving you a tastier protein, but it also helps in warding away harmful bacteria. FoodSafety.gov explains that during the meat’s resting time, its internal temperature remains constant or continues to rise, and this can destroy bacteria, especially if you enjoy your meats on the rare to medium-rare side. You need to make sure your proteins reach a safe internal temperature to ensure all harmful bacteria is destroyed.

Even if you think you know the internal temperature of your meats by their color, the only way to be sure is to use a thermometer. Ground meat should reach a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Fresh beef, lamb, pork, and ham should reach 145 degrees Fahrenheit and poultry needs to hit a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. This goes for reaheating leftovers, too.

3. Tasting food to see if it’s still good

Couple making salad together in the Kitchen

If it smells, don’t eat it. | iStock.com

You might think a quick taste of food that’s been in the fridge for weeks won’t cause much harm, but you could be ingesting microbes that can wreak havoc on your body, says CBS News. And, chances are, your food might not even taste, smell, or look bad once it’s spoiled, making you susceptible to eating old foods that can cause real harm. The best way to know if your foods have gone bad is to keep track of storage by labeling things with a piece of masking tape. No more guessing.

In general, tuna, ham, egg, or chicken salads last around three to five days in the fridge, and they don’t freeze well, so eat them within this timeframe. Lunch meats that are freshly sliced will last you three to five days, while unopened, they’ll last up to two weeks. Fresh meats should not be kept in the fridge longer than three to five days without being cooked, and fresh poultry only gets a maximum of two days. Any and all leftovers should be consumed within four days, or you can choose to freeze them for a couple of months.

4. Letting hot food cool before refrigerating

Making Spaghetti Meat Tomato Sauce

Leaving your food out can cause bacteria to grow. | iStock.com

There’s a common misconception that warm food should be cooled before it’s stored in the fridge, but this harmful and common food safety mistake can lead to the growth of harmful bacteria. AARP explains explains that there’s a two-hour rule. Your food, warm or not, should only be kept out of the fridge for a maximum of two hours before being stored in a cooler location. If you leave your food out for longer, even if it’s fresh from the oven, you’re risking bacteria growth.

If you’ve made a large meal and have trouble storing it in the fridge, try breaking it up into smaller containers for easier storage. In the case of making a fresh pot of soup, repackaging it into smaller and shallower containers allows the individual soups to cool down faster in the fridge, meaning there’s less of a chance for bacteria to grow. Always cover your liquids, too.

5. Reusing old shopping bags

Women making a salad

Plastic bags are a breeding ground for bacteria. | iStock.com

You may try to be eco-friendly by saving your old plastic bags you’ve gotten from the grocery store, but it might be best to throw these in the trash. A story on consumer expert Clark Howard’s website explains old plastic grocery bags can breed harmful bacteria, and keeping them around to reuse again can spell trouble for you and your family. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has found that even though the meats you’re buying are packaged, the bacteria from the meat can be easily transferred from outside of the package onto the shopping bag.

To avoid getting sick from this bacteria, be sure to wash your bags and soak them in hot water after each use. If you’re using cloth grocery bags, then you can easily put these bags in your washing machine, and this will take care of your problem. Also, double bag your raw meats with plastic when you buy them from the grocery store before placing them in your reusable bag to avoid the spread of bacteria as much as possible.