This is the third of a five-part series focused on tips for college students and others cooking for themselves for the first time.
The cleanest kitchens, according to Chuck Gerba, a professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Arizonia, are in the homes of bachelors, who never wipe up and just put their dirty dishes in the sink.
Who would have guessed those spick-and-span-looking kitchens were often the dirtiest? In his study of bacteria in home kitchens, Gerba found that the attempts to wipe counters clean just spread bacteria all over the place.
Ever suffered from food poisoning or a food-borne illness? It is something to be avoided. And you can, if you follow a few cleaning and safe food handling practices.
The most common symptoms of food-borne illnesses are abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, possibly accompanied by fever. These symptoms can appear within a matter of hours or up to several days after eating tainted food.
Food-borne illnesses are caused by eating food that has been contaminated by chemical, physical or biological means.
Insecticides and cleaning solutions are examples of chemical contaminates; hair, rodent droppings, fingernails and glass are examples of physical contaminates.
Biological contaminates include natural toxins like those found in wild mushrooms or rhubarb leaves, as well as disease-causing microorganisms known as pathogens. Pathogens account for about 95 percent of all food-borne illnesses.
Microorganisms are present virtually everywhere; most are helpful or at least harmless, such as those found in yogurt, cheeses, beer and wine. Only about one percent of the microorganisms are responsible for causing illness.
Of the microorganisms that cause food-borne illnesses, bacteria are the biggest culprits. Under ideal circumstances, bacteria will reproduce every 20 minutes or so. In about 12 hours, one bacterium can multiply into 68 billion bacteria, more than enough to cause illness.
Food that contains path-ogens in numbers great enough to cause illness may still look and smell normal, so we can't count on any sensory alerts that the food is 'off.'
The home kitchen is a Petri dish for food-borne illnesses. Bacteria are on our unwashed hands, dishtowels, sinks, refrigerator door handles, etc. Those warm, moist, crevice-filled sponges and dish cloths are breeding grounds for bacteria, too. This makes cross contamination of foods a very serious concern.
There are a number of things you can do to protect yourself and those who eat the food you prepare from illness.
n Wash your hands. Get in the habit of washing your hands with soap and hot water before you begin doing anything in the kitchen - even opening a soda.
n Make a bleach solution by adding one teaspoon of bleach to a gallon of water. Fill a spray bottle and use the solution everyday on counters, refrigerator handles, doorknobs, sinks, etc.
n Even if the place is brand spanking new, clean the kitchen from top to bottom when you move in. Use your bleach solution.
n Remember that trusty sponge that you use to clean everything? You are going to rinse it out and while damp, nuke it for 1 minute in your microwave every day.
n Use a clean dishcloth every day. If you buy about a dozen and launder what is dirty every week, you will always have a fresh supply.
n Clean the refrigerator before you stock it each week. Wipe down the shelves and walls with a solution of mild detergent and water.
n Meat - and particularly chicken - should only be stored on the bottom shelf of the fridge to keep their juices from dripping onto other foods. Cross contamination is responsible for most of the food-borne illnesses started in home kitchens.
n Always wash your fruits and vegetables, even if they are 'pre-washed.'
n Use separate cutting boards for separate tasks. Never cut vegetables on a board used to cut raw meat without cleaning and sanitizing it first. If using the same knife to cut a different food, clean and sanitize it first. Sanitize the boards and knives by washing and then rinsing with your bleach solution. If you can't allow time to air dry, dry with paper towels and throw the toweling away.
Cooked foods should be served on clean plates, not the plates that held the original raw food.
n Allow dishes to air dry rather than towel dry them.
n Clean up spills quickly.
n Cook food properly. Most bacteria will be killed during cooking. Buy and use an instant read thermometer and be sure foods reach the temperatures recommended.
As tempting as it might be to follow the bachelor's techniques for kitchen sanitation, I recommend you spend a little time with the bleach solution every day to keep yourself healthy and your kitchen on the 'OK to eat here' list.
Bon Appetit! Discover the Joy of Cooking!
The recipes included today (here and in the Five:30 column) are both quick and easy comfort foods. Enjoy!
Green Beans with Shallots
Makes 4 servings
If you don't have a shallot use a quarter onion instead.
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the cooking water
1 pound fresh green beans
1 large shallot
1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil over high heat and salt it generously. Trim the stem ends off the green beans. Peel and finely chop the shallot.
Drop the green beans into the boiling water and cook, uncovered, until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse with very cold water until cool. Drain well and pat dry with paper towels. (The vegetables can be prepared up to this point up to 4 hours ahead.)
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallot is just golden, about 2 minutes. Add the green beans, increase the heat to high, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are heated through, about 4 mintues. Season with the ½ teaspoon salt and some black pepper and serve immediately.
Food Network Kitchens How to Boil Water, 2006
A five ingredient entrée ready in 30 minutes or less!
The Everyday Macaroni and Cheese
Makes 6 servings
Pasta is a great budget stretcher and comfort food. This recipe comes from the Tillamook Cheese Web site, hence the call for Tillamook products. It's okay to use another brand, and you can substitute skim or 2 percent milk for the whole milk, if you wish.
8 ounces dry elbow macaroni
2 tablespoons Tillamook unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 ½ cups (10 ounces) Tillamook Medium Shredded Cheddar Cheese, divided
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter a 2 quart shallow baking dish.
In a large pot, bring 3 quarts water to a boil. Add 2 ½ teaspoons salt and macaroni. Cook according to package directions, stirring occasionally. Pasta is done when it is slightly chewy to the bite or al dente. Drain pasta in a colander and set aside.
Prepare sauce while pasta is cooking. In a medium saucepan, over medium heat, melt butter. Whisk in flour and cook 3 minutes, whisking constantly. Gradually add milk and bring just to a boil, whisking constantly. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking often, until sauce slightly thickens, 4 to 5 minutes. Add salt, pepper and 2 cups of cheese. Stir until cheese is melted. Remove pan from heat and fold in pasta. Pour into prepared baking dish then sprinkle top with remaining cheese.
Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and top begins to brown. Let sit 5 minutes before serving.
Tillamook Macaroni and Cheese and Cheese, www.macaroniandcheeseandcheese.com
Moms, Dads and those experiencing success living on their own - do you have tips to share? Send them to me and we'll compile a list for the final installment of this series.
Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-635-8811 or by e-mail at brandall@lakeoswe