The holiday season tends to bring out traditions, or habits, if you will. While most are fun and harmless, others, while they may have the best intentions, need to retire. Here’s my top five food-related habits that need to be broken:

  • Cooking in a paper bag. I’m not sure how this got started, but cooking in a paper bag, whether it’s a turkey in the oven or popcorn in the microwave, is not recommended. Paper bags were not made to cook food. According to the USDA, they may not be sanitary, and there can be toxic fumes from the ink, glue and recycled materials. Instead, use oven-safe cooking bags, which have been approved by the FDA and can be used in a microwave or oven set no higher than 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Rinsing raw meat. While it may seem cleaner or safer to wash meat before cooking, it’s actually spreading bacteria, not removing it. Water can splash bacteria up to three feet surrounding your sink. Cooking to the proper temperature kills bacteria; therefore, washing it isn’t necessary.
  • Storing refrigerated food outside. The refrigerator may be jam-packed with food, but putting perishable food outside or in the garage could put people at risk for foodborne illness. Even if there is snow outside, temperatures can vary hour by hour and sun can easily warm the food enough for bacteria to grow. If you need extra space, use insulated coolers filled with ice; you can then put them outside or in the garage.
  • Thawing on the counter. Maybe it’s what your mom used to do, but I bet she’d be the first to tell you that “just because so-and-so does it, doesn’t mean you should!” At room temperature, bacteria can rapidly multiply producing toxins that cooking may not destroy. There are three ways to safely thaw: in the refrigerator, under cold water (change water every 30 minutes), or in the microwave (must cook immediately after).
  • Leaving leftovers to sit out too long. It’s potluck season, which means an abundance of food that has the potential to sit at room temperature for longer than two hours, increasing the risk of foodborne illness. Keep hot foods hot with slow cookers or buffet chafer food warmers, and keep cold foods cold by placing food in a serving dish over a bowl of ice.

If any of these practices have entered your life, consider adding them to your list of New Year’s resolutions and say good-bye!

Smith is nutrition and wellness educator for the University of Illinois Extension, McLean County. Contact her at 309-663-8306. 

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