As the Wayward Foodie, much of what happens in my kitchen is a result of trial and error. Sometimes it's a lot of error.
I was blessed with the stomach of a goat, which means my husband ends up being the canary in the mine when it comes to food adventures. Sometimes with not-so-happy results.
There are some obvious food safety violations that even the most inexperienced cooks know to avoid: undercooked poultry, cross-contamination, past-expiration dates.
FoodSafety.gov has a comprehensive guide to managing those basics, including the philosophy of "clean, separate, cook, and chill," and estimated safe storage times for different products in the refrigerator or freezer.
But then there are some unexpected scenarios where what happens in the kitchen can make you ill if if you're not paying attention:
1. Undercooked beans
We learned this one the hard way. First, I soaked dry black beans for much longer than necessary (it was only supposed to be overnight but I kept forgetting about them, and they sat in water in the fridge for five days). I haven't yet figured out that if oversoaking was part of the problem.
Then, instead of cooking them in a pot as the directions indicated, I decided to let them slow simmer in the Crock Pot on low. Six hours later, they were still firm and tasted similar to alfalfa sprouts. Not unpleasant but very clearly undercooked. I gave my husband a small bite, with no more than five beans total on the spoon. Ten minutes later, he was complaining of heartburn and was promptly sick.
Lo and behold, according to a study published in PloS One undercooked beans and /or rice can be toxic. Medical News Today explains that lectins, the sugar-binding proteins found in legumes and grains, can prevent gastrointestinal cells from repairing tears in the cell walls, a process that usually takes seconds. Your body ultimately tells your GI tract to expel the contents.
Even a few undercooked legumes can cause GI distress. Undercooked beans can have higher levels of lectins than totally raw beans, but proper soaking and cooking destroys the compounds.
Setting the slow cooker to low may also have contributed to the problem, as the beans couldn't get hot enough to cook away the lectins. Which, I figured out later, is why all the recipes instruct setting it on high for beans.
I left the beans cooking overnight on high and by morning they were soft and tender. I left them simmering on low the rest of the day, and dinner was delicious.
2. Reusable shopping bags
AOL reported on a recent study from the University of Arizona, Tucson and Loma Linda University that showed most people don't wash their eco-friendly reusable bags, which become breeding grounds for bacteria. Scarily, after testing 84 reusable bags, researchers found that half contained coliform bacteria and 12 percent contained E. coli bacteria.
When using plastic bags, meat products are almost always bagged separately. But there's something about those canvas sacks that makes people want compress as much as possible into one bag. Therefore, meat is often thrown in with all the other food stuff.
Many of us also end up using those same to tote non-grocery items as well, adding to the cross-contamination efforts.
As someone who is 100 percent guilty of all violations, it's offputting to think what could be growing in there.
The lesson: Wash your reusable bags. It's as easy as that.
3. Eating unrisen yeast
I can't prove this one, but I'm pretty sure my one and only attempt at making pizza crust from scratch led to one long, horribly bloaty, uncomfortable night for the two of us.
I must have killed the yeast by using too-warm water, so my dough never rose. Being both impatient and impulsive, I rolled it out anyway and baked the pizza.
Bad idea. Somehow the yeast began reacting and rising in our stomachs.
Like I said, I can't prove that's really what happened, but at the time it seemed like a pretty simple cause and effect scenario. This thread on Chowhound seems to suggest that you can still make use of "dud dough" that didn't rise, but I wouldn't recommend it.
4. Kitchen sponges
I'm happy to report that I've never made anyone sick from using bacteria-laden sponges, but it could only be a matter of time. Sponges are moist breeding grounds for bacteria, and can easily pick up and transfer other pathogens.
But there's an easy fix: According to the USDA, placing the sponge in a microwave for 60 seconds or putting it in the dishwasher is an effective way to disinfect it.
Photo credit: Stock Exchange