Which foods need to be washed during a pandemic or any time?
Do not use soap on fruits and vegetables or disinfectants on food packaged in cardboard or plastic wrap.
As I meandered around a store recently, I noticed that cleaning supplies were still in short supply. I found one bottle of chlorine bleach on the shelf.
According to Nielson research, sales of disinfecting sprays were up 520%, compared with last year, and multipurpose cleaners were up 250%.
When the pandemic began several months ago, some people were disinfecting their food packages. I received several questions from consumers asking me how to wash their canned goods and packages when they returned from the grocery store.
Actually, washing food packages is not a standard recommendation. The risk of catching COVID-19 from food products, food package or bags is low. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention specifically does not recommend using disinfectants such as bleach or ammonia on food packaged in cardboard or plastic wrap.
However, follow food safety practices every day.
I have a food safety quiz for you this week. Try these questions. The answers are at the end.
- True or False. Fresh fruits and vegetables should be rinsed thoroughly with plenty of cool running water but no soap before eating or preparing.
- When selecting fresh produce, which areas of the fruits or vegetables should you trim away because they are likely to harbor bacteria?
- Melons, potatoes, apples and peaches are in season. What is the first step to do before preparing these fruits and vegetables?
- Two-part question: Should eggs be washed before use? Where should eggs be stored? (Be specific.)
- Should meat such as chicken, beef or pork be washed before cooking? Why or why not?
- What are the differences among cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting?
Here are the answers.
True. I hope that was an easy question. Do not use soap on fruits and vegetables. Soap can leave behind residues that are not good for your health.
Trim away damaged or bruised areas because bacteria can thrive in those spots.
Foods with a harder surface, such as apples, melons and potatoes, can be scrubbed with a vegetable brush and rinsed thoroughly. Softer produce such as peaches and strawberries should be rinsed well under running tap water.
Unless eggs are visibly soiled, they do not need to be washed before use. In commercial egg processing plants, eggs are washed thoroughly and a light coating of mineral oil is applied to help protect the egg. For safety and best quality, keep eggs refrigerated in their original carton in the main area of the refrigerator. Avoid placing them in the egg holders found in some refrigerator doors, where the temperature is warmer.
Washing meat is not recommended. We may think we are removing bacteria when we wash chicken, beef or pork before cooking. However, washing meat can lead to cross-contamination, spreading bacteria around our kitchens. Washing meat is not recommended for this reason.
Always wash your hands carefully after handling any raw meat. Most bacteria are found on the surface of whole pieces of meat and poultry. These “germs” will be killed by cooking the meat to the recommended internal temperature. Be sure to use a food thermometer to check doneness.
Note: Some people still prefer to rinse meat and poultry before cooking. Take some steps to avoid cross-contamination. If you choose to rinse meat or poultry, wash the sink, cutting boards and/or countertop area with plenty of hot, soapy water, then rinse with water and sanitize.
Cleaning removes the visible soil or food from a surface. Sanitizing reduces the amount of bacteria (but not viruses) noted on the product’s label. To make a basic sanitizer, mix 1 tablespoon of unscented chlorine bleach with 1 gallon of lukewarm water (or a scant teaspoon of bleach per quart).
Disinfecting destroys or inactivates the bacteria and viruses on hard, nonporous surfaces. The “germs” are usually noted on the product label. Choose a disinfectant that is approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, and prepare and use according to the instructions on the label.
Disinfect high-touch surfaces three times per day if someone has COVID-19 or shows symptoms, according to recommendations from the Clorox Co.
Bottom line: Read the instructions on the cleaning or disinfecting containers. Using cleaners or disinfectants incorrectly can be dangerous.
How did you do on the quiz? See https:www.ag.ndsu.edu/food and click on “food safety,” or under programs, click on “field to fork” to learn more about safe food handling. Here’s a recipe to practice safe food handling.
Beef and Broccoli
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 (10.5-ounce) can beef broth
2 tablespoons white sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce (low sodium recommended)
1 pound boneless flank steak, cut into pieces
1 clove garlic, minced
4 cups chopped fresh broccoli
In a small bowl, combine flour, broth, sugar and soy sauce. Stir until sugar and flour are dissolved. In a large skillet or wok over high heat, cook and stir beef two to four minutes, or until browned. Stir in broth mixture, garlic and broccoli. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer five to 10 minutes, or until sauce thickens.
Makes four servings. Each serving has 310 calories, 10 grams fat, 36 grams protein, 19 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber and 510 milligrams sodium.
(Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson .)