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8 Food Safety Rules You Might Not Know But Should

Healthy food clean eating selection: fruit, vegetable, seeds, superfood, cereal, leaf vegetable on gray concrete background.
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There are some food safety rules that are pretty well-known. Always refrigerate perishables, don’t let raw meat touch other foods, and make sure chicken is cooked all the way through before eating. These safety tips are all fairly common sense rules concerning food storage and preparation.

However, there are plenty of other equally important food safety tips that not everyone is familiar with. Whether it involves storing, defrosting, preparing, or eating your food, be sure to keep these tips in mind to ensure that you and anyone you cook for enjoys their meals and snacks as safely as possible.

Thawing Meat Safely

The defrozen raw chicken in the microwave.

Despite what you may have been told in the past, you should actually avoid thawing your frozen meat in hot water. Leaving your meat or fish out on the counter at room temperature isn’t a great idea either, especially with the risk of leaving forgetting about it. Both these methods are basically rolling out the welcome mat for bacteria to grow.

Whether you’re thawing turkey, chicken, pork, ground beef, or fish fillets, there are better and safer ways to defrost your animal proteins.

The easiest way to thaw meat is to use your refrigerator if you have the time. All you have to do is place your (still wrapped) meat or fish on a large plate, casserole dish, or baking sheet and leave it to chill for 12 to 24 hours. With large quantities or high weights (like a Thanksgiving turkey), this might take a few days.

Don’t have time for that? Cool or cold water is also a safe bet.

Place your meat in a leakproof plastic bag, fill a large bowl full of cool tap water, and fully submerge the bag. You might have to place a plate or other slightly heavy object on top to keep everything totally underneath the water. This method will take somewhere between half an hour to an hour per pound of meat; Two pounds of pork chops, for instance, will take about two hours to thaw in cool water. Be sure to change out the water every half hour, too.

If you’re really strapped for time, throwing your frozen meat in the microwave is the quickest yet still safe way to defrost it. Unwrap your meat or fish, place it on a microwave-safe plate, cover with another microwave-safe dish or microwave cover, and defrost based on your microwave’s settings.

Keep in mind that meat thawed by cool water or a fridge will safely last in the refrigerator for a few days, but you should plan to cook any microwave-thawed meat right away to prevent bacteria.

Circulon Nonstick Roasting Pan with Rack

If you're planning on oven roasting a turkey, make sure you've got the proper roasting pan and rack for it.

Using Leftover Marinades

Top down view on multiple white bowls holding an assortment of bright red marinades next to plates of herbs and other ingredients.

If you’ve ever marinated your meat, you probably noticed that there tends to be a decent bit of marinade left once you’ve finished. It’s unfortunate that you don’t have the option to reuse that marinade on another piece of food since it’s touched raw chicken or meat or fish, right?

Don’t go dumping that remaining marinade down the garbage disposal or into the trash just yet. You actually can reuse your meat marinades, as long as you’re smart about it and take the proper precautions.

First, remove any leftover pieces of meat that are still sitting in the marinade. Then pour the remaining marinade into a saucepan, bring it to a boil on your stovetop, and leave it to boil for five minutes. This will help to kill any bacteria left behind by the raw meat so you can safely reuse the marinade on tofu, vegetables, or any other foods—just be sure to apply it with a clean cooking brush.

Keep in mind that the marinade will be thicker than before, since some of the liquid will have boiled away, and it may lose a bit of its flavoring as well.

OFG Stainless Steel Meat Injector Syringe Kit

Brushing or soaking your meat in marinades isn't your only option-- you can inject them right into the meat itself with this kit.

Cooking Frozen Meat in the Slow Cooker

Closeup of hand choosing fresh raw ribs meat in the freezer.
Creativa Images/Shutterstock.com

While defrosting your meats and seafood before cooking is ideal, we all forget or run out of time every now and then. If worst comes to worst, you generally can toss a frozen pork chop or chicken breast right into the pan or baking dish and just cook it for a little longer than usual. It’s not optimal, but it works.

However, it’s actually not safe to toss frozen meat in a slow cooker, unlike the oven or stovetop.

Since slow cookers heat up much slower than ovens or stovetops, it takes them longer to reach a high enough temperature to kill any harmful bacteria that might be in your meat. Frozen food starts off at freezing or below-freezing temperatures, and it also takes much longer for it to heat up to a safe internal temperature.

These two factors combined give bacteria that much more time to grow on the meat as it’s sitting in the slow cooker—too much time, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Therefore you’re better off playing it safe and always defrosting your meat and seafood before placing it in the slow cooker.

Crock-Pot 7-Quart Slow Cooker

Make full-sized, home cooked meals for the whole family with minimal effort in this large, stainless steel slow cooker.

Storing Potatoes and Onions Together

Onions and potatoes for sale on a farmer market.

Both potatoes and onions should be stored in cool, dark, and dry places, and the fridge isn’t the best place to stash either of them (unless the onions are chopped). Therefore it’s not uncommon for many people to store these two veggies next to each other on the same pantry shelf or in a basket on the countertop.

It turns out you’re better off keeping them in separate spots. Storing onions and potatoes together is actually a great way for both veggies to spoil faster than they’re supposed to and thus shorten each others’ shelf lives.

Onions release high levels of ethylene gas as they sit, and the gas speeds up the ripening process causing potatoes to ripen faster and go bad quicker. Potatoes are naturally much moister than onions and some of that moisture may leech into your onions, causing them to break down or start leaking.

To keep both veggies ripe and unspoiled for as long as possible, stick to storing one on the countertop and one in the pantry or cellar.

CAXXA 3-Tier Hanging Basket

A hanging basket like this is a great spot to store either potatoes or onions if you have limited kitchen countertop space. (Just not both!)

Eating Uncooked Beans and Lentils

Legumes, a set consisting of different types of beans, lentils and peas on a black background, top view. The concept of healthy and nutritious food.
pbd Studio/Shutterstock.com

Legumes like beans, lentils, and chickpeas are great sources of fiber, protein, minerals, and vitamins, without high amounts of fat. They make great additions to a whole variety of dishes, from soups to chilis to casseroles and more.

Just be absolutely sure that you’ve cooked your beans, lentils, and chickpeas all the way through before eating them in any form.

All three of these legumes contain a high amount of a protein called lectin, which has negative effects on the body when consumed. Lectins not only interfere with your body absorbing vitamins and nutrients the way they’re supposed to but can cause digestive issues or distress like cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea. Regularly eating any of these foods uncooked can cause long-term issues that may lead to more serious gastrointestinal issues and even hospitalization.

The good news is that cooking your beans, lentils, and chickpeas properly will get rid of those pesky lectins. As long as they’re heated at over 212 degrees for at least 30 minutes, you won’t have to worry about lectins at all.

BELLA Two Tier Food Steamer

A veggie steamer like this one is a safe and easy way to ensure your beans and other legumes are properly cooked.

Washing Turkey

Slate plate with raw spiced turkey on table.
New Africa/Shutterstock.com

You should always wash or rinse off your meats before roasting or otherwise cooking them, right? It’s a great way to rinse off any debris or bacteria. That is what many of us have been told when learning to cook.

We hate to break it to you, but your parents and grandparents were mistaken about this one. You shouldn’t rinse your chicken before cooking it, and that holds true of whole turkeys, steaks, and any other raw meat, poultry, or seafood.

Washing your raw meat and seafood in the sink will do more harm than good. It might remove bacteria from your food, but it’ll do so by splashing bacteria all over your sink and possibly elsewhere in the kitchen. No matter how careful you might be, not all of it will get washed down the drain. And you can’t always tell where the contaminated water has been splashed and thus where the potential bacteria might grow.

As long as you fully cook your meat, poultry, or seafood, the heat will kill off any harmful bacteria. The only time rinsing off your Thanksgiving turkey or other meats is necessary is if they’ve been brined, according to the USDA. It’ll be too salty to eat otherwise. Just make sure that you either line your sink with paper towels and run the water extremely slowly or, better yet, wipe or pat it down to remove the brining without spreading germs everywhere.

KULUNER TP-01 Digital Meat Thermometer

A meat thermometer will ensure that your meat and poultry is safely cooked all the way through.

Eating Leftovers

View Inside Refrigerator Of Leftover Takeaway Pizza Slice On Shelf.
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com

Leftovers are extremely useful for those nights when you don’t feel like cooking but either can’t afford or aren’t in the mood for takeout and are too tired to go out to eat. They also make for handy lunches to take to work the next day.

That said, be sure you aren’t letting your leftovers sit in the fridge for too long.

According to the USDA, you shouldn’t eat any leftovers that have been in the refrigerator for more than three or four days no matter the food in question. Any longer and you’re putting yourself at risk for food poisoning. And always give your leftovers the sniff test before eating them; if they look or smell off in any way, toss them immediately.

If you don’t think you’ll finish all your leftovers within that time span, you can always go ahead and freeze them. Most will safely last for three to four months in the freezer as long as you store them properly.

Rubbermaid Brilliance Food Storage Containers

Be sure to aim for leakproof and airtight food storage containers for your leftovers.

Eating From Dented Cans

Tin cans with different food on grunge background.

Canned food is a great way to stock your pantry and cupboards with food that will last for years without going bad. They’re great for emergencies, power outages, and anyone who doesn’t have access to refrigeration or a lot of fridge space. You can also throw together recipes with canned food if you’re ever too tired or unable to go to the store.

There’s one caveat about canned food though—if the can is dented and you eat the food inside, you’re putting yourself at risk for food poisoning.

A can with a dent, especially a dent on the seam or one that fully punctured the metal or has a sharp point, risks exposing the food inside to germs, bacteria, and other pathogens that cause foodborne illness—something that isn’t a risk with regular, unharmed canned food. At worst, a dented can may expose you to botulism, which is a rare but potentially fatal form of food poisoning.

If the bump is very minor or superficial, you’re probably okay, but it’s still best to steer clear of dented cans to be safe. When looking at canned food at the grocery store, also be sure to avoid any that are leaking or swollen, as this may indicate the food inside is spoiled.

Granite Ware 8-Piece Canner Kit

Got excess fruits and vegetables courtesy of your garden or want to make your own pasta sauce? Create your own canned goods at home with a kit like this one.

Food can be one of the great pleasures of life, as long as you’re smart about storing and preparing it. No one wants to come down with a case of food poisoning or another foodborne illness after enjoying their favorite meal or snack. Luckily, following these eight food safety rules can go a long way toward ensuring this doesn’t happen to you and your family.

Meghan Herlihy Meghan Herlihy
Meghan Herlihy is a full-time writer for LifeSavvy and How-To Geek and has written across a wide variety of topics, genres, and formats, including radio talk shows, local sports journalism, and creative original fiction. She received her bachelor's degree in communications from Ithaca College and a master's in writing from Johns Hopkins University. When she's not writing, you're most likely to find her reading a book, petting every dog within eyesight, and indulging in her love of travel. Read Full Bio »
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