Taking a simple look at the damaging effects of today’s hectic lifestyles and recent food scares from across the globe reveals that the various aspects of kitchen safety play a huge role in our everyday wellbeing. It is then no surprise that nutritionists are urging us to become more careful with how and what we eat on a regular basis, so as to avoid unnecessary health scares and even long-term problems. But how can you achieve this seemingly impossible goal on your own, you might ask? Simple – just follow this easy guide to a healthy kitchen for a boost in your overall happiness and wellbeing:
- Keep it organized
Having a cluttered kitchen can be detrimental both to your weight and your general wellness levels. On the one hand, a cramped and suffocating atmosphere will make the entire eating experience seem rushed, incomplete, and generally unpleasant. On the other hand, keeping things which don’t belong in the cooking space – like bills, children’s toys or your pet’s food bowl, for instance – can allow for bacteria to gather and ‘wreak havoc’ more quickly than you can keep up with cleaning, hence resulting in all sorts of issues like indigestion, stomach flu, etc.
As a result, make it a rule that everyone in the family should keep non-kitchen items (and their respective health-hazards) outside this environment. Not only will your kitchen stay neat and tidy, but you will then associate this space with a more efficient and enjoyable way of experiencing food and the interactions which go along with it. Go one step further by excluding technology during meals (anything from phones to laptops) and you will quickly notice how being more present while eating can help you keep a slimmer figure and an overall happier kitchen.
- Make wise choices for your pantry
Are you the type of person who likes to stock up on non-perishable foods? If so, then you should know this apparently smart habit could actually be detrimental to your health and safety.
While having food reserves is nothing short of ideal – since you never know when you might need an extra can of tomato paste or a jar of peanut butter, right? – getting too much or the ‘wrong’ products will definitely have a negative impact on your dietary habits. For example, filling your pantry to the brim with salty snacks, candy, and sugary or caffeinated drinks can lead to weight gain and other health problems over time, since these ‘temptations’ will always be on hand when you are feeling stressed, bored, etc.
Moreover, you should also keep in mind that only certain foods can maintain their quality and freshness outside the fridge. Healthy pantry options that won’t pose a threat to your wellbeing in the long-run include canned vegetables and fruit (low-sugar types), protein bars, dried fruit, applesauce, oatmeal, and whole grain items (crackers, pretzels, pasta, etc.).
Always make sure these foods are properly sealed, off the ground, and stored in a dark, dry, well-aired space for maximum shelf-life viability.
- Clean regularly
Because this environment is defined by activities which revolve around washing, chopping, cooking, and discarding scraps of various kinds, the kitchen is the ideal ground for bacteria to thrive. From Salmonella to E. coli, these pesky pathogens love nothing more than to ‘hide’ in the plain sight of humid racks and food-stained countertops.
Obviously, taking the time to thoroughly scrub and disinfect all the nooks and crannies of your kitchen once a week is one great way of minimizing such health threats. If commercially bought cleaning products aren’t exactly to your taste, then you can make your own antiseptic solutions using household items like vinegar, baking soda or citrus juice.
When washing pots, pans, plates, cutlery, and all other kinds of crockery, remember to use warm to hot water to properly remove all food residues. Let them drain completely, then dry them with a kitchen towel before storing them away to avoid mold that would otherwise form from the humidity.
- Cook foods thoroughly
It comes as no surprise that most food related problems – like nausea, abdominal pain, indigestion, and episodes of diarrhea which vary in intensity – can be traced back to how the food you ingested was manipulated and prepared.
Raw meats are the primary source of Campylobacter and Salmonella infections, which is why you should take all the precautionary measures to avoid such contaminations. Luckily, heat kills off pathogens, which is why different meats will require different cooking temperatures.
For instance, chicken will be safe for consumption at 74°C-82°C (165°F-180°F) (depending on whether you are cooking pieces or a whole bird), while tougher meats like veal, pork, and lamb pass inspection at around 71°C-74°C (160°F-165°F). Avoid medium-rare cooks if you can, since these harbour the greatest health hazards in terms of bacteria. Also, if you are unsure of how these temperatures work, buying an internal thermometer will safe you most worries later on.
Similarly, you should pasteurize raw milk by boiling it, then cooling it down and storing it properly in the fridge. The same concern applies to eggs as well, which should be well prepared before eating for maximum safety.
- Create a balanced fridge
In terms of nutrition, the key to a healthy kitchen definitely resides in how you organize the contents of your refrigerator. After all, this is the ‘centrepiece’ which determines both your dietary habits and how safe for consumption your meals actually remain over time.
First things first, aim for a balanced fridge by stocking up on healthy foods like skimmed milk, low-fat dairy cheese and yogurt, alongside fresh fruit and vegetables in order to avoid binge-eating their fatty or sugary ‘alternatives’.
Secondly, learn how to maximize the freshness and flavour of these ingredients by knowing where their ideal place in the fridge is. Consequently, the top shelves should be reserved for easily perishable foods like leftovers, opened cans and jars, dairy products, and ready-to-eat meats (for instance, salami, ham, sausages, etc.).
Lower drawers can house fruit and vegetables, but preferably in separate compartments (since veggies need a higher degree of humidity than fruit).
Although the door of your fridge is the ‘warmest’ place, you can still keep eggs, milk, and condiments here without the fear of them spoiling any time soon.
Meats like fish, pork, beef, and poultry should always go in the freezer (packed separately) or on the lowest level of the fridge (below fresh produce) when thawing.
- Wash it up
If you want to keep your kitchen and – by extension – yourself healthy, then never forget to keep your hands clean whenever you are handling foods and drinks of any kind. Keep a bar or bottle of antibacterial soap near the kitchen sink for this purpose and never hesitate to scrub away any potential germs whenever you get the chance to.
Food poisoning can occur from even the slightest contamination with microbes of the Campylobacter and norovirus type (which cause symptoms such as nausea, visceral cramps, and severe diarrhea), so it is definitely better to be cleanly safe than painfully sorry when working with food in the kitchen.
Besides your hands, you should also wash vegetables, legumes, and fruit properly so as to avoid these ‘bad’ bacteria or any pesticides residues. Further protection can be ensured by soaking more difficult to wash ingredients – such as leafy greens, let’s say – in a mixture of water and vinegar (which acts as an antiseptic element).
It is equally important to have separate cooking boards for meats and other ingredients (veggies, fruit, etc.) because the former are more likely to carry bacteria before they are heat processed and therefore contaminate fresh produce in the process of cooking.
- Don’t let bacteria thrive
While cleaning your kitchen regularly can prevent numerous stomach issues and other illnesses, it is nevertheless not enough. Germs are notorious for their ability to ‘sneak’ in all sorts of places which offer humidity and therefore the chance of developing colonies, so knowing what to prevent could save you a lot of trouble in the future.
For instance, make a note of changing kitchen towels regularly so as to avoid food contamination; opt for paper towels to get maximum bacterial protection and access to easy cleanup.
As for your old dish sponge, it should be discarded at least monthly, even sooner if it gets too dirty in the meantime. Because leftover food inevitably gets trapped inside the porous material of the sponge, regular replacing will not only keep your dishes cleaner, but it will also cater to your health as time goes on.
In addition, any moulding problem which you might be experiencing in the kitchen area should be dealt with as quickly as possible as well, since the presence of fungi on your walls and ceiling could easily ‘translate’ into spoiled food or even respiratory difficulties.
- Check the dates
The downside to healthy foods like fresh veggies, fruit, and low-fat dairy is that their shelf life is pretty much limited to a couple of days, after which they could become a hazardous source of unwanted microorganisms themselves.
This is why it is important to go through a weekly ‘purging’ session of your fridge, when you clean it by throwing away the items which are no longer fresh looking, have passed their expiration date or – worst case scenario – have become rotten, developed mould, etc.
As a general rule, opened cans and jars, milk and juice cartons, alongside leftovers and other cooked foods will only last a couple of days in the fridge, so keep these in sight for fast eating. Containers which start smelling or looking funny should be quickly thrown away in order to avoid cross-contamination with other items in the fridge.
Maintaining your food correctly ‘organized’ should enable you to still enjoy healthy and delicious meals without the fear of germ infections in sight.
- Separate food properly
Food storage is one of the biggest issues concerning kitchen health and safety nowadays. While some can be deceptively resistant over time, others can literally spoil within hours if not correctly put away.
As previously mentioned, non-perishables like cereal-based products, canned fruits and veggies, dried fruit, nuts, and various other snacks can be kept in a pantry for longer. They do not require refrigeration and usually have more extended expiration dates.
On the other hand, foods which cannot go without needing refrigeration include green vegetables, dairy products, eggs, fresh fruit, condiments, and leftovers. These spoil fairly easily and could become dangerous to your health if handled improperly.
It is vital that you store raw meats and ice cream in the freezer, but – at the same time – keeping in sight not to over pack it (air circulation is vital for maintaining these ingredients fresh and health-friendly). If stored properly, frozen meats have the capacity to stay consumer-appropriate for up to six months at a time.
- Be a smart shopper
Did you know you could plan ahead for a healthy kitchen…without even being in the kitchen to begin with? Well, believe it or not, learning how much and what to buy can help you stay healthy, fit, and satisfied with your choices at the same time.
Shopping for food is a process in itself, one which can be significantly eased with the help of a few simple tricks. For example, never leave to buy kitchen-related items without first drawing up a list of the things you will need to purchase. Make this list knowing that every item almost always has a healthier alternative to it, which you should opt for whoever given the opportunity.
Moreover, this technique of ‘only essentials’ will allow you to avoid food waste (since you will be actively eating the food, not ‘forgetting’ about it in the fridge). Not to mention that it will simultaneous safe you money and inches off your tummy. How so? Because buying just enough food to last you a certain number a days – coupled with healthy choices for your pantry – means that you will not be tempted to overeat or reach for an unhealthy snack when you are bored or tired. Simple, wholesome, and ingenious as that!