11 bad kitchen hygiene habits you should break ASAP

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If you're wondering why you or your loved ones fall sick all the time, perhaps it's time to check your kitchen habits.

Certain habits may seem pretty harmless, but they might be slowly introducing germs and bacteria into your body.

We've rounded up 11 common bad kitchen hygiene habits that everybody's guilty of from time to time, and what you should do instead so you and your family can stay healthy and illness-free.

1. Defrosting meat on the countertop

We admit everyone's guilty of this sometimes, but contrary to popular opinion, the kitchen counter isn't the best place to thaw out frozen foods.

This is because room temperature actually speeds up bacteria growth and allows millions upon millions of harmful microorganisms to flourish.

Instead, thaw meats overnight in the refrigerator and reduce your risk of getting food poisoning.

2. Following the five-second rule

"Five-second rule!" You've either heard someone exclaim this phrase or uttered it yourself. Legend has it that it's safe to eat food that's fallen on the ground, as long as it's picked up within five seconds.

Whether you believe in this food myth half- or whole-heartedly, it's best to exercise caution when dealing with food that's been dropped.

It really depends on the surface it's fallen on too - according to research, tile, stainless steel and wood have much higher bacteria transfer rates than carpet.

So, consume at your own risk, but those with more vulnerable immune systems like children and older folk should probably avoid the five-second rule.

3. Leaving dish rags lying around

Many of us are guilty of this, leaving used and damp kitchen towels and dish cloths hanging around the sink. This is a prime breeding ground for germs.

After each use, make sure to wash the cloth and hang it out to dry properly, instead of leaving it in a crumpled heap on the sink or countertop. This reduces cross contamination.

4. Rinsing meat in the sink

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Whenever you wash meat in the sink, water droplets splash about and if you're not careful, these water droplets could end up on your plate or utensils, contaminating them. The same goes with prepping meat on counters without sanitising it first.

As a guide, avoid rinsing meat and poultry. The best way to destroy harmful bacteria in them is simply by cooking them!

5. Forgetting to rinse cutlery and utensils

Even if your plates or cutleries look clean, it doesn't mean they are. Especially if they're left exposed on the kitchen countertop, they may be vulnerable to bacteria left behind by creepy crawlies that come out in the middle of the night.

Also, there could be spots you've missed while washing them. Remember to rinse dishes and the like before usage and wipe them with a clean microfibre cloth.

6. Not washing hands properly

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Right after handling meat or raw food, always remember to wash your hands properly with soap. Cross contamination can cause food poisoning and you wouldn't want that to happen to you or your family.

7. Not cleaning your cutting board properly

Each time you use your cutting board, make sure to clean it properly as bacteria and food particles can get into the crevices of the board.

Wash with hot water and soap, especially if the cutting board was used for raw meat or seafood.

Never slice raw meat on the same cutting board you use to chop vegetables or cut fruits. Raw meat can contain microorganisms that cause disease to transfer to your fresh produce.

8. Using the same sponge for too long

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Ironically, the sponge you use to scour dishes clean is also the dirtiest part of your kitchen. If not properly sanitised and replaced every so often, they become vehicles for transferring bacteria across your plates, pots and utensils.

Microwave your damp sponges for 120 seconds kills 99 per cent of germs, and make sure to dry them properly in-between uses.

If you leave sponges at the bottom of the sink, you're allowing them to soak in a puddle of their own germs. Get a plastic holder that lets you hang them on the side of the sink instead.

Oh, and just as with the cutting board, never use the same sponge for everything!

9. Not sealing food properly

Open cans and containers in the fridge is a huge no-no. Your fridge has a whole host of bacteria and leaving an entire pot of food inside unsealed could risk cross contamination.

Use containers with proper lids that ensure air doesn't get in.

10. Not cleaning the sink

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It might seem silly to wash your sink (after all, isn't your sink where things go to get clean?) but, food debris and bacteria could still be lingering in your sink and lead to illnesses like E.coli and salmonella if left unclean.

To clean, remove everything from the sink first.

Use gentle, non-toxic soap, warm water and a soft cloth to clean the basin, drain, faucets, tap area and around the rim of the sink. You can also pour hot water down the drain to sanitise hard-to-reach areas and remove any gunk, which helps reduce odours too.

11. Letting your pets in the kitchen

We love our pets but letting them into your kitchen is a potential health hazard. Pets carry a lot of bacteria and germs especially after they've been out on a walk, or just passed motion as their faeces carry bacteria and parasites.

This article was first published inĀ The Singapore Women's Weekly.