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For most of my adult life, getting comfortable in the kitchen has been… a process. It took me years to accept that, yes, for me, following set recipes is the only way to properly learn how to cook things well, and yes, having a decent set of knives will make a big difference.
Still, there are kitchen “rules” that have always confused me — or eluded me entirely. For example, I still don’t entirely align with the idea that I’ll get violently ill if I eat raw cookie dough, despite the fact that my mom told me this for most of my childhood and that it is, in fact, pretty unsafe, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
As recently as my mid-20s I can remember having arguments with peers about the proper way to treat raw meat before cooking it. “What do you mean you don’t rinse off raw chicken before cooking it?” a colleague asked me, their face awash with shock. Was this a thing people did? I found myself asking. Had I been poisoning myself all these years by not rinsing it off? A quick Google told me that actually, rinsing off raw meat is potentially dangerous — it spreads bacteria to the sink and counters, according to the FDA. Still, it’s a common kitchen habit of many people, which emphasizes the fact that just because you’ve been doing something for years in the kitchen without problem doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe. When it comes to cleaning and cooking in the kitchen, there’s personal preference and then there’s safety.
Worried your kitchen habits are unsafe? Here are some things you should never, ever do in your kitchen:
Using the Same Sponge to Wipe Down the Counters and the Dishes
I spoke to Mareya Ibrahim, a chef and natural products industry expert, about what habits people should avoid in the kitchen to stay safe, and this tip is the first thing she mentioned. When you use the same sponge to wipe down counters or cutting boards that you use on clean dishes or hands you are potentially cross-contaminating your surfaces with bacteria. When it comes to cleaning up germ-infested spills — like raw meat juice — the safest thing is to use a paper towel or just soap and running water, if possible. If it’s not, opt for a washable rag that you can sanitize in the laundry after use. To keep things as safe as possible, the Food and Drug Administration also suggests using separate cooking tools and instruments for raw food.
Cleaning Produce in a Dirty Sink
It may seem counterintuitive, but your sink is not a clean place. As microbiologist Dr. Charles Gerba shared with Food & Wine: “There’s more E. coli in a kitchen sink than in a toilet after you flush it.” Pretty gross, right? Needless to say, if you’ve been placing produce directly into your kitchen sink to wash it off, you should stop. Instead, opt for washing produce inside a colander that you can more effectively clean and sanitize between uses.
Forgetting to Wash Your Hands Every Time You Touch Raw Meat
As the FDA points out, you should be washing your hands after every single instance of touching red meat — no matter how brief. That means 20 seconds under warm, soapy water. No exceptions. And for reference, that’s actually the equivalent of singing the “Happy Birthday” song twice through.