'Tis the season for a lot of food prep—and a lot of sick kids. Coincidence? Maybe not. Sure, germs are flying around daycare playrooms and grade school circle time. But it's an overlooked fact that tummy troubles and stomach bugs can also be triggered by contamination at home in the kitchen.
One in six Americans get sick with a foodborne illness every year—but as many as half of all of those are kids under the age of 5, according to the Partnership for Food Safety Education. Young kids (and the elderly and immune-compromised) are more vulnerable to foodborne illness, so it's key to avoid slip-ups in the kitchen that could spread harmful bacteria like E. coli and salmonella.
Here are some of the most common mistakes:
1. Not washing hands before food prep. This one sounds like a total no-brainer, but in a USDA study, 98 percent of people failed to wash their hands properly before preparing a meal. Make sure you (and your kids) are doing it right: Wet hands first, rub with soap for at least 20 seconds, rinse, then dry.
2. Grabbing ingredients with germy hands. That same USDA study also found that nearly half of people contaminate spice jars while handling raw meat. If you've touched raw poultry or meat, wash your hands before reaching for other ingredients.
3. Rinsing raw chicken. You may have been told to do this in the past, but it's now known as a serious no-no. Rising raw chicken (or any raw meat) just splashes and spreads bacteria around your sink and kitchen.
4. Forgetting about flour. You already know that raw eggs in batter can pose a risk, but raw flour can actually harbor disease-causing bacteria as well, including E. coli. In fact, there was a multi-state outbreak of foodborne illnesses caused by contaminated flour two years ago. The FDA warns against eating raw flour in batter or dough when making things like cookies, bread, or pizza. You should also wash hands after handling raw flour. But don't worry: When flour is cooked or baked, any harmful bacteria is killed.
5. Not getting crevices clean. There are nooks and crannies in the kitchen that easily go uncleaned. For instance, be sure to take apart and wash all parts of your blender, not just the pitcher. A study from NSF International also found that rubber spatulas had the one of the highest bacteria loads of all kitchen surfaces! Some spatulas are detachable at the handle, creating a space for germs to hide. Remove the top and wash both parts well in soap and hot water. By the way, the NSF study also cited the refrigerator's water dispenser, meat compartment, and vegetable drawer as surprisingly dirty spots too!
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of The 101 Healthiest Foods For Kids. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.