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Food safety tips for a germophobe?

I'm a bit of a germophobe and it affects what I cook. I don't often make things with raw meat and poultry, especially if recipes require chopping or breading or otherwise handling raw meat. I want to expand my options beyond pan frying or baking precut pieces, but I worry about germs getting on the counter, faucets etc.
Any cleanliness and food safety tips to handle raw stuff safely but with more ease? I'm curious about everyone's routines etc.

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  1. I wash my hands well before doing any sort of cooking. I might wash my hands a couple of times while preparing a meal. I think that is the major thing one can do to prevent contamination.

    Most authorities recommend using at least 2 cutting boards. One of these should be reserved for raw meat exclusively. Or perhaps all meat should be prepared on a single cutting board. I prefer wood, and somewhere I have read that bacteria doesn't penetrate very far into the wood fibers. I think wood cutting boards if washed frequently with detergent are safe to use. That is the procedure I use.

    Wash the chef's knife. The chef's knife does everything and a good one doesn't get thrown into the dishwasher.

    I like stainless cookware because it can go through the dishwasher. I don't want cookware or dishes or flatware that cannot be put through the dishwasher. The dishwasher is the biggest help with sanitation that I know of.

    Cook meat till done. Since you are phobic about meat, I'd cook it pretty well done. I am fairly casual about things, except for what I have mentioned above, but go into full war against contamination when cooking for others outside my household.

    1. I have this problem. And it is a problem. My way of dealing with it is not very environmentally-friendly. I wear vinyl gloves ALWAYS in the kitchen, changing them often, going through dozens each day. I have certain knives for meat, others for poultry, others for other, same for cutting boards, and they all get scrubbed in almost-boiling hot water with way too much soap and bleach for way too long. I go through a shameful amount of paper towels and paper plates, and run my hot water waaaaay too much. I have pretty much destroyed my countertops with the bleach and the scouring. I am in therapy, making some progress. You do what you do to get things done.

      3 Replies
      1. re: tracytrace

        They make those antibacterial wipes now. If I was that worried about my counters, I'd use those every day. I used to use them a lot when I was showing my house and wanted my counters to be totally spotless.

        1. re: sueatmo

          I loooove my Clorox and Lysol wipes! Great for faucets handles and fringe handles and light switches and cabinet handles! With an extra little spritz of bleach once in a while :/

        2. re: tracytrace

          Tracytrace, so glad I'm not alone! :)

        3. You can wear disposable gloves and instead of cutting boards, use styrofoam trays such as supermarkets use. I don't guess you'll be rinsing off the ones that your raw meat is wrapped on, but save the ones from produce and prepacked cold cuts. The supermarket would probably sell you some unused ones too. You can pick up your raw meat with tongs.

          I am as far from germophobic as possible, so on the off-chance that you are unaware, researchers have come to realize that our immune systems can turn on us if they aren't given anything to do. They need germs to fight. More than a few scientists believe hypercleanliness is the cause of the increased percentage of allergies an autoimmune diseases.

          1. My usual routine

            - store meat separately, so it can't contaminate other ingredients.

            - do cutting and handling of raw meat separately from vegetables. So I'll cut up all the veggies for my meal and move them away from the counter, and then do the meat.

            - after cutting meat, wash the cutting board and knife with soap and hot water. Wipe down the counter with a soapy cloth, rinse the cloth in hot water, wipe again.

            - if I'm doing something particularly messy, like trussing and stuffing a turkey, or cutting apart a chicken, I will clear stuff off the counter before doing it, and wipe it down the counter a spray bottle of vinegar and water.

            - When I'm handling meat, if I need to do something else, I wash my hands in hot soapy water first. I've got a faucet that can be turned on and off using my arm.

            This seems to be pretty good. I work with raw poultry and meat of all sorts including whole birds, seafood (including cleaning fish and squid) and in 20 years of cooking for myself I've never had a problem at home.

            I don't use bleach, because I figure inhaling bleach fumes on a daily basis probably has a bigger impact on my healthy than the small chance of food poisoning that's left. And I don't like antibacterial wipes/washes for the superbug issues.

            Wood cutting boards are easier to keep bacteria free than plastic.

            Oh, and I don't buy pre-ground hamburger meat. That's stuff's just nasty.

            1 Reply
            1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

              Do you ask the butcher to grind meats freshly for you?

            2. I totally understand that my phobia isn't reasonable or logical or scientifically sound. But, it's there. I'm working on it. In the meantime, my family needs to eat and I'm the designated cook. Good lord that sounds contentious, and I am NOT trying to be! Just saying, I realize it's ridiculous, and I laugh at myself, and am taking steps to be able to cook chicken without having to scrub my hands with a (new) wire brush. Meanwhile, the gloves and the bleach make cooking possible for me. And the therapy (and The OCD Workbook) are helping, too! Good luck, and keep trying!

              8 Replies
              1. re: tracytrace

                yes, no judgement from here. I often have to clean the entire kitchen before I start and if have a 2-basin sink I fill one with soapy hot water before starting for raw chicken touched things, which is also good for jalapeno touched things (all gets washed again of course) and helps with general wash-up anyway.

                1. re: hill food

                  Ohhhhh, a 2-basin sink is going on my Christmas list!

                  1. re: tracytrace

                    Just put a small dishpan in your larger sink. Two-basin sinks limit your ability to rinse a large turkey or clean large pots and pans.

                    1. re: greygarious

                      ehh that's a stop-gap measure, then you have to clean both the dishpan and the sink. but it's still better than nothing.

                      of course in my dream kitchen there will be a plunge/utility sink and a commercial grade sterilizing washer and and and...

                      1. re: hill food

                        Oh no. But, yes, still saves time and energy!

                      2. re: greygarious

                        This is a great idea! Much better than doing one thing, rinsing bleaching scrubbing rinsing, then doing another. I did just actually smack my hand on my forehead. Thank you for posting this!

                        1. re: tracytrace

                          My mother always used a dishpan and a rack underneath it, though I am not sure why. She'd set the washed but unrinsed dishes aside on the drainboard, then empty and rinse the dishpan before refilling it with plain water and dipping the dishes to rinse them. I never liked the rinsing procedure since the pots, which she rinsed last, were going into water that had a little soap in it. My dishpan takes half the sink. I rinse under a little stream of water over the other half. I almost never wash the dishpan itself, just rinse it out after pouring out the dishwater. I've had cats who liked to use the sink to pee in, which not only didn't bother me - I wish they all did, so the litter pan didn't need dumping as often. I prefer rinsing a sink that never contacts food directly, to emptying and washing the litter pan. I suppose I've given you nightmares....sorry.

                          I had the dishwasher disconnected years ago since I never use it. Waste of water and electricity IMO, and I would rather wash up daily than leave dirty dishes in the dishwasher for the days it would take to accumulate a full load.

                  2. re: tracytrace

                    Oh, you bet I'm OCD too... It's not pathological, but causes me some anxiety. It got worse when I was pregnant, with all the warnings against listeria and salmonella and toxoplasmosis... I'm better but I have a long ways to go.

                  3. Disposable vinyl gloves are really useful. I use them whenever I handle chillies as I have a toddler so transferring chilli on to her from my hands would be awful.

                    Also where I live you can buy liquid soap dispensers that have a motion sensor so you don't have to touch them to get soap out.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Frizzle

                      Oh, yeah. I have the motion sensor soap dispenser and the motion sensor faucet. And trash can. Good stuff!

                    2. I'm not sure if this is part of your concern, but another thing that might be of help would be to get a good meat thermometer so that you can be guaranteed that the internal termperature of the meat has reached the level to guarantee germs are killed.

                      1. When I cook, I prep all my veggies, then prep all the meat. The cutting board, knife, and counters then get thoroughly cleaned. That way, everything is neatly in a container and I just have to toss it in the pan as required. I'm not especially germaphobic but I do have a tight kitchen. I also use nitrile gloves to make meatballs- the texture weirds me out. I'd say this- if nobody's gotten sick from your cooking yet, what you're doing is probably fine. And if your germ aversion is interfering with your ability to cook dinner in a reasonably timely fashion, consider seeking some help. Being a slow cook is one thing- being constantly delayed by hand washing, counter bleaching, etc is another. Good luck!

                        1. Thanks for all the replies and wonderful suggestions!

                          1. Would talking a food safety class help? I often find that the more I know about something that stresses me out the more relaxed I become.

                            1. I am germophilic, but I fully understand where you are at as a number of friends enjoy to eat what I make as long as they don't see the process. So here is what I have observed.

                              Separate cooking utensils in separate drawers are fine for poultry, meat, and veggies. Ensure you have a booster heating element on your dishwasher, and make sure you also wash your plastic cutting boards. Surgeon style faucets that can be used with your elbows are great for washing between preps. I had one installed in the half bath next to my kitchen.

                              Non-scented chlorine bleach should be your best friend for cleanup. Joy or Dawn dish soap are best for sanitizing and are widely regarded as best at emulsifying grease. If you have an outdoor vented hood, you are good to go. Be sure to put the entire hood into your cleaning rotation, not just the screen.

                              Organic and free range are not a panacea for the exclusion of salmonella and other waterborn or fecal transmitted germs. The animals don't run to the bathroom every time they have the urge. And as a person who slaughters animals for a hobby, you are better off trusting a commercial slaughter house than a local hobbyist. My stuff gets sanitized before and after, but I have seen some real horrors.

                              Stick to wild caught fish for peace of mind. Have your fishmonger gill, gut, and scale in front of you, or buy fillets. Deep fried fish goes much farther to destroy surface contamination than poached or pan fried. And medium rare meat on the inside has not had a chance for the bacteria you are sensitive to migrate inside if it is fresh. So please go to the market more than once a week.

                              Hope any of this has been of benefit. Happy cooking! :-)

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                Not sure how a "surgeon style" sink in a small room with a toilet (what "half-bath" means to me) would help here. If kitchen effluvia bothers you, what happens with the human variety?

                                  1. re: holypeaches

                                    Understood, but you're still right next to a toilet. Don't see how this wouldn't bother the germaphobe crowd with their double-wrapped cutting boards and so forth.

                                    1. re: monfrancisco

                                      ahem, some of us manage to not produce 'effluvia'

                                      and it's not easy - you betcha

                              2. I've gotten over my germ phobias, but my routine used to be wrapping my cutting board (dishwasher safe) in layers of plastic wrap before cutting meat on it, discarding the plastic wrap, bleaching, and then running through the dishwasher. I still use a separate board for meat, and that board is dishwasher safe. I spray all surfaces with bleach at the end of cooking.

                                1. Not to make you any more paranoid, but are you aware that fresh vegetables and fruits can be just as packed with dangerous food-borne illnesses? Things like salad mix, cantaloupe, sprouts of any kind, even frozen fruit. Costco just had a recall of frozen blueberries because of Hepatitis A contamination.

                                  I tend to stay away from the pre-bagged, pre-washed salad mixes. Also, if I buy anything with a hard outer rind, like cantaloupe or avocado I will wash the rind with a soapy sponge and some warm water, BEFORE I cut into it. Once you cut into it, the knife can transfer any nasty bits from the rind to the flesh.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: mwk

                                    Good points. I wash all fruit before eating, regardless of whether I plan to peel it.

                                    A lesson learned for many was when they served fresh pineapple at the governor's mansion in Minnesota. They did not wash the pineapples first and many people became ill.

                                    1. re: mwk

                                      Yes, great points! I'm careful with vegetables and fruits, but for some reason they feel more manageable, easier to clean. I also wash everything before peeling or cutting, and I sometimes use a purifier in the water (I brought it from my home country, where produce contamination is common--never seen it here in the US). And I gave up raw sprouts...

                                      1. re: kmanihot

                                        A 3:1 ratio of water to vinegar in a spray bottle or about a 1/2 cup in a big bowl of water is a very effective, non-toxic, natural produce wash. A gallon bottle of white vinegar is less than $3 at Target.

                                    2. Awareness of what's contaminated (countertop, meat packaging, knives, fingers, faucet handle, sink, etc.)

                                      For breading, single-use food-service gloves. Cheap at Sam's Club.

                                      I use a sheet pan to prep raw meat and poultry on, because I can't be convinced that the germs are easily killed on a cutting board. Also the sheet pan keeps drips contained and thus off of the countertop.

                                      I keep a special place in the fridge free for raw meat storage (but still always put it in there on a plate or quarter sheet pan).