The War Against Germs; Foodborne Pathogens

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There are several ways germs can spread through your house.  It becomes more noticeable when family members get sick one by one.  Sometimes the germ is brought in from work, school, or just daily life outside the home.  But once it’s in your house, you have a mission to stop it before everyone else gets sick.  Simple hand washing won’t guarantee success.  You can help stop the spread of germs from one person to the next by checking what happens in your kitchen and stop foodborne pathogens.

Wear gloves when handling the dishes of a sick person.  Keep those dishes separate from other dishes until they have been sanitized.  Do not let the dishes of a sick person sit on the counter or in the sink.  Clean them immediately.  Put them in the dishwasher immediately.  Failing to do these things is one reason care givers get sick when they could have avoided it.

People generally try to follow the safest procedures they can when cooking.  Separate cutting boards and utensils for vegetables and meats, proper hand washing, and changing gloves between tasks are all important parts of meal preparation.  But, what about after the meal has been served, enjoyed, and the dirty dishes are lurking in the kitchen?

That cutting board, cooking utensils, and dirty dishes are in the kitchen producing future foodborne pathogens.  They even create their own protective coating called “slime”.  Ewww!!  The slime makes it difficult to kill germs using chemicals like bleach.  You might kill the creepy crawlies on the top layer of slime, but the bugs on the bottom are happily consuming food particles. reproducing, and making even more slime.  Some pathogens can double their population at alarming rates.

Many people do not have a dishwasher with a sanitation cycle.  If this is the case, you have no time to waste.  Really.  The longer you wait to wash those dirty dishes the more chance your family will get food borne illnesses.  To avoid this issue, many cooks of the past century and still today practice “wash as you cook” methods.  By the time the meal is prepared, nearly all the dirty dishes are washed and put away.  Then all that’s left is the eating utensils and a few stray cooking utensils.

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We use cutting boards that can go in the dishwasher.  Wood, especially bamboo, don’t hold up well over time in the dishwasher.  We only use one side of the cutting board and put the dirty side facing inward so the full effect of the washer can be had.  But mostly we put them in the dishwasher to sterilize them.  Pots and pans go in the dishwasher too, even if I have to run the dishwasher two or three times the same day.

Cast iron cookware should not go in the dishwasher or have soap used on them or their usefulness is wasted.  Instead, I clean them well, by boiling water if necessary, put a fine layer of oil on them and put them in a 350°F oven for a few minutes.  In this manner you are not only sure the pan’s interior is clean, but also the handle.  No more spreading germs from pan to knife to food!

However, as people have become busy with their work-a-day lives, they often leave dishes in the sink, or laying around the house, all week.  Come their day off, they gather them up and wash them.  Others put dishes in to soak overnight.  These practices must stop if you hope to ensure your home is not infested with foodborne pathogens.

When washing dishes by hand, be sure to wear rubber gloves.  They protect your hands from germs, prevent chafing, and help you tolerate higher water temperature.  The higher temperature doesn’t do much for killing germs but it makes it easier to clean the dishes.  Then the dish detergent can get in there and do its job!  When you are finished washing dishes, use a good anti-bacterial bar soap to wash your still gloved hands.  Remove the gloves and hang them to air dry.

Once germs are on kitchen utensils and dishes, they are spread by your hands to everything you touch.  That pan you just washed?  Did you dry it with a dishtowel?  If you have germs on your hands, so to does the towel, and now your clean dishes aren’t so clean any more as you spread germs from dish to dish!  From now on, take the easy way out and let them air dry on a sanitary dish drainer!  Don’t forget to kill germs on counters too!  If you are sensitive to bleach, simply pour boiling water on the surfaces and wipe it up.

Now, for whatever reason you do not have a dishwasher with a sanitation cycle, and the heated dry cycle doesn’t heat to a high enough temperature, or you’re not expecting to have electricity during a WCE, now what?  Foodborne pathogens can be some of the most difficult to get out of your kitchen.  They can also be the easiest!  During past centuries they simply put all the dirty dishes in a big boiling pot.  Ten minutes later they are read for use.  That was how dishes were rinsed after washing with elbow grease and soap.  It doesn’t take long to kill off germs that way.  It is important that the water be over 165°F to be sure bugs are killed.  Some sources tell you 148°F is sufficient, but consider that the U. S. Navy required water supplies on ships to be heated to 165°F.  The extra 2 minutes it takes to go from 148° to 165° is worth it, but why not just boil the water?  You don’t need to worry about using a thermometer to be sure if water is at proper germ killing temperature.

Lastly, consider your dishwasher.  Even though your dishwasher goes through a sanitation cycle to clean the dishes, take a look at the door, inside and out.  See any nasty stuff there?  Yeah, those are germs just waiting to get on your nice clean dishes and your hands.  Clean and sanitize those areas of the dishwasher that will not be cleaned by the dishwasher.  Use bleach if you can tolerate it, if not look for other methods to sanitize it.

Following these methods should be a daily practice and will bring you one step closer to preventing germs from destroying your plan for preparedness.