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Keeping Your Food Prep Areas Safe (Part 2)

By: Ann Marie Coppen

Anne Marie Coppen

PhD, FNP, Nurse Practitioner

For a personal response to your health question, Ask Ann Marie at askannmarie@lindora.com. Selected questions will be featured in future columns.

Want to avoid fever, severe diarrhea, food poisoning, vomiting, and abdominal cramps that can last several days?

food safety & prepLast month we shared these startling facts and statistics: According to WebMD, all of these mentioned conditions can be prompted by food-borne illnesses caused by food prep area germs. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that every year 76 million people in the United States become ill from germs or disease causing matter in food. Five thousand of the 76 million will die from these disease causing substances!

This information is startling! And with drivers being in contact with many public places that are frequented by thousands, it is even more important that you all take extra precautions.

If you missed last month’s article, click here to learn about ways to prevent contamination from sponges, dish cloths, kitchen and truck cab sinks and countertops, and important hand washing instructions.

Cutting Boards

It does not matter if you have a wooden or a plastic cutting board.  What does matter is the integrity of the cutting board.  When the board starts getting gashes and cuts from use, it becomes more challenging to remove all the food residue. Wooden boards can perhaps be used for a longer period of time since some bacteria is absorbed into the interior where it will eventually die.

There are cutting boards that claim they have antimicrobial compounds. Georgia University expert Joseph Frank claims that this is a waste of money, because they kill only the pathogens that are in direct contact with the board. Most of the time the pathogens are in grease on food and are not contacting the board. He states that if you don’t clean it, the antimicrobial board will not help. If you do clean it then you don’t need it because the cutting board is already clean.

Things you can do?

  • Clean your cutting board with soap and water.
  • Once home, clean the cutting board in the dishwasher.
  • If the surface of your cutting board is too rough, purchase a new one.
  • Consider having three cutting boards of different colors; e.g. green for vegetables & fruits; white for fish; and red for red meat.


In order to keep most bacteria unable to multiply, it is suggested that you keep your refrigerators at 40 degrees Fahrenheit.  It is important that you have a refrigerator thermometer at home or in your truck to make sure that the temperature in the refrigerator remains less than 40 degrees.

Things you can do?

  • Every couple of weeks wipe down the refrigerator with soap and water.
  • Put meats, cheeses, and vegetables in the drawers of your fridge since they are the coolest area.

No fridge in your truck cab? In order to keep your foods fresh, use a cooler to keep your items from spoiling. Be sure to use clean storage containers and ziplock bags. Keep cool with ice and be sure to clean the cooler on a regular basis.

Freezers: Keep your freezer at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler.

Microwave Ovens

The way the microwave works is with short wave-length radio waves. These radio waves cause the fat, water, and sugar in the food to vibrate creating heat. A concern with cooking food in the microwave is that it does not always cook evenly. There may be food areas that are uncooked where harmful bacteria survive.

Things you can do?

  • If you are cooking solid food such as meat, let it stand for a few minutes after cooking so the heat can extend throughout the meat.
  • If you are cooking stew or soup, make sure to remove from the microwave, stir, and place back in the microwave until it reaches recommended temperature.
  • Make sure to use microwave safe containers.

Keeping your food safe:

Quick tips on leftovers:

  • From oven to refrigerator: refrigerate or freeze leftovers within 2 hours of cooking.
  • Days in refrigerator: If you are going to store leftovers for longer than 4 days, freeze it. When reheating solid leftovers, heat to a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat liquid leftovers until boiling. Throw away what you do not finish.
  • Cool quickly: Place food in a shallow container (approximately 2 inches) to expedite chilling.

Food prep:

  • Wash produce: Wash all vegetables and fruit under running water. Produce with a hard outer skin, such as watermelon or cantaloupe, should be scrubbed with a produce brush prior to cutting them.  This way you do not introduce bacteria from the outer layer in to the vegetable or fruit.
  • Cook meals thoroughly: Eggs that are not cooked properly can expose you to the risk of Salmonella Enteritidis. Cook the egg properly. Pasteurized eggs or eggs substitutes are less likely to pose a risk.
  • Defrosting & marinating: Defrost food in the refrigerator, not on the countertop. Another option for defrosting may be under cold running water or in the microwave (defrost). Also, marinate meat in the refrigerator, not on the countertop.
  • Prevent cross contamination: Keep poultry, seafood, eggs, and raw meat separate from other foods. Try to use a different cutting board for each.
  • Avoid moldy foods: Don’t even sniff it, because it can cause respiratory problems.
  • Pay attention to food recalls: You can also check for any food recall by visiting FoodSafety.gov.

Taking time to be sure your food prep utensils and surfaces are clean and that your food is stored properly could make a big difference in your health and well-being. It is time well spent!

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