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Nature's Insights

Alliance Online - Top 10 Kitchen Habits Damaging Your Gut Health

A little kitchen shortcut might seem harmless but could actually be doing more harm to your body than you realise. Here, Mike Hardman from Alliance Online outlines the top 10 kitchen habits that could be damaging your health.

Approximately 40% of people in the UK say they regularly follow a healthy and balanced diet (Statista). Although healthy eating is commonplace in the average UK lifestyle, there are some avoidable habits we could still be doing in the kitchen that are affecting our health.

The Food Standards Agency estimates there are around 2.4 million cases of foodborne illnesses in the UK each year, many of which could be avoided with more hygienic kitchen practices.

Below, I’ll be going through some of the common kitchen mistakes you might be making, and how you can reduce bacteria in your home.

1.    Eating raw dough when baking

We're all guilty of sneaking a bit of raw dough or cake mix now and then while we're baking, but it could actually be damaging your gut health. Raw dough contains uncooked eggs, which can carry salmonella, and uncooked flour, which can contain E. coli, both of which can lead to food poisoning. So, to keep your body healthy, it might be best waiting until your bakes are fully cooked before eating them.

2.    Using the same chopping board

Using the same chopping board for meat, fish, and vegetables can be dangerous for your health. This is because disease-causing bacteria from your raw meat can be transferred to your fresh produce and lead to illness.

You should be following correct cleaning techniques to wash and disinfect your chopping board after each use. Plastic chopping boards can be cleaned in the dishwasher, but you'll need to wash a wooden chopping board by hand with warm soapy water and a scrubbing brush.

As bacteria can sit in tiny gaps in the chopping board's surface and can be difficult to remove even with the most rigorous cleaning, you're best using a different chopping board for raw meat, fish, and vegetables to avoid cross-contamination.

If you spot any scratches in a wooden chopping board, you can easily sand the surface down to remove them. However, if your plastic chopping board has a lot of nicks and is looking a little worn, it's best to replace it with a new one.

3.    Incorrect defrosting procedures

Although defrosting meat on the counter can help speed up the process, thawing meat at room temperature can make it the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Instead, it's best to plan ahead and remove your meat from the freezer the night before and defrost it in the fridge. Although it might take longer, you'll be doing a huge favour for your gut health.

4.    Leaving leftovers out of the fridge

Saving leftovers can be great for reducing your food waste. However, leaving them out of the fridge for too long can make them unsafe to eat. As a general rule of thumb, you should put your food in the fridge as soon as it is cool and throw away any food that has been left sitting out of the fridge for longer than two hours. After this time, harmful bacteria can start to grow, making your food unsafe to eat.

5.    Incorrect handwashing

While you're cooking, your hands will come into contact with all sorts of bacteria, so it's important to wash them regularly to avoid transferring the germs and bacteria onto your food. You should be washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm soapy water after you've:

  • Touched raw meat
  • Sneezed or coughed
  • Touched your face or hair
  • Touched germ hotspots like light switches, doorknobs, or your mobile phone.

6.    Using an old sponge

Although your kitchen sponge is there to clean, it could actually be one of the dirtiest parts of your kitchen! A study published in Scientific Reports concluded the average kitchen sponge contains much more bacteria than we originally thought. This is because it constantly comes into contact with food and bacteria as you wash your pots and pans, and the bacteria is left to multiply as your sponge sits damp in the sink. This means you're more likely spreading germs across your kitchen instead of cleaning surfaces.

To reduce the number of bacteria in your sponges, you might want to use a different one for each cleaning task, such as one to clean pots and pans and one to wipe down surfaces. You should also make sure you're drying it properly in between uses by placing it on a dish beside your sink.

You should be cleaning your kitchen sponges daily to help keep bacteria at bay. You can do this by running it through the dishwasher or soaking it for around one minute in a mixture of water and bleach. However, the most effective solution is to replace your sponge once a week.

7.    Not cleaning your sink

Just like your kitchen sponges, your sink can also be a breeding ground for germs and bacteria like salmonella and E. coli. You should be cleaning it at least once a week by wiping the sides, base, and rim of your sink, along with the tap, with warm soapy water. Then, spray each surface with a mixture of water and vinegar or a mild antibacterial soap to disinfect the area.

To help keep your sink clean in between washes, you should avoid rinsing raw meat before cooking. As long as you cook your meat properly at the recommended temperature, this should kill any harmful bacteria before you eat.

8.    Stacking fridge incorrectly

A well-organised fridge is essential to a healthy kitchen, so don’t be tempted to place items wherever they'll fit. Raw meat, poultry, and fish should be stored in sealed containers on the bottom shelf to avoid any juices dripping down and contaminating the rest of your food.

The door shelves are the warmest area of the fridge as the temperature can fluctuate when you open it. Only store foods with natural preservatives here, such as jams, sauces, and juices.

To keep food as fresh as possible, the Food Standards Agency recommends your fridge is set somewhere between 0–5°C.

9.    Not washing reusable bags

Reusable shopping bags are great for the environment, but how often do you wash yours? Because they can quickly pick-up dirt and bacteria from your shopping, you should be cleaning them regularly, especially if you've been carrying raw meat. This is really easy to do, as you can throw fabric shopping bags into your washing machine. For plastic-based reusable bags, you can wipe them down with warm soapy water or a disinfectant spray.

10. Eating the wrong foods

It's not just your kitchen habits damaging your gut health, because your dietary habits can affect it, too. Processed foods, red meat, alcohol, and foods with added sugar or artificial sweeteners can all help to feed unhealthy gut bacteria and lead to inflammation.

Foods high in fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAP) — which are carbohydrates found in common foods — can also cause bloating and abdominal pains. These foods include:

  • Wheat-based products
  • Dairy-based milk, yoghurt, and ice cream
  • Fruits such as apples, peaches, and cherries
  • Vegetables such as artichokes and onions
  • Beans and lentils

Restricting the amounts of high FODMAP foods you consume can reduce these symptoms and improve your gut health, according to a study published in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

Although these foods are perfectly fine in moderation, you should make sure you're eating plenty of probiotics and gut-friendly, high-fibre foods such as whole grains, oats, brown rice, and plenty of fruit and vegetables.

You might also benefit from extra digestive support such as Colomint peppermint oil capsules to promote gut health.

By avoiding these 10 habits, you could make your kitchen more hygienic and reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses. By following a regular cleaning routine, being mindful of cross contamination, and eating the right foods, you can keep your family safe and healthy.

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