A food scientist shares three rules to cook by to help ensure you and your family stay safe.
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peanut butter jar and spoon
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Especially on busy weeknights, many of us try to minimize the number of tools we're using while cooking to make clean-up easier. However, if you use one knife or spoon on certain foods, you could transfer harmful bacteria from one type of food to another and get sick. "Raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs can spread germs like salmonella and E. coli to ready-to-eat foods if you don't separate them," says Tamika Sims, PhD, senior director of food technology communications at the International Food Information Council. Read on for Sims' tips on avoiding cross contamination and keeping your kitchen a safe place to cook and enjoy your food.

Don't Mix Non-Shelf-Stable and Shelf-Stable Foods

Sims says it's especially important not to mix a non-shelf-stable food with a shelf-stable food. "For instance, in the case of jelly and peanut butter, it is important not to get jelly into the peanut butter because jelly requires refrigeration after it has been opened, peanut butter does not," she says. "The jelly will not cause immediate spoilage of your peanut butter, but it is a good rule of thumb to not mix foods that need refrigeration with those that do not."

Always Prep Produce First

The CDC reports that nearly 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases each year across the United States. But being mindful about the order in which you prepare your foods can help you avoid dangerous cross contamination. "Prepare fruits and vegetables before raw meat and poultry and use clean utensils, hands, and surfaces in-between preparation of each type of food," instructs Sims. "And be sure to keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood away from other foods in the fridge."

Be Mindful of the Utensils You Use

When thinking through your own use of utensils, Sims has a few tips. "From a safety perspective, it is fine to use the same utensils to prepare all of your same clean produce or the same utensils to prep all of your raw meat, but you should not mix utensils between the produce and raw meat (or poultry and seafood)," she says. If you're unsure of what to do, Sims advises using this simple rule of thumb: don't use the same tool on both a food that can be eaten raw and one that must be cooked before consumed, or a food that must be refrigerated and one that is shelf-stable.

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