It’s not easy to get started becoming independent in college, especially in the kitchen. Learning to prepare your own meals, do the grocery shopping, and reheat leftovers can be a challenge. You need to spend just as much time learning about food safety as you do about healthy cooking and easy meals. (See Be Immune to Getting Sick.)
Cross contamination, expired foods, and improperly re-heating foods can lead to food-borne illness, which can be serious. Here are the biggest mistakes college students make in the kitchen:
Leaving perishable food outside the refrigerator for more than 2 hours
Keep cold food cold (40 degrees F or lower) and keep hot food hot (140 degrees F or higher). Do not eat anything that has been sitting out for more than 2 hours, as it probably has reached the perfect temperature for viruses to grow.
Not using a food thermometer for cooking
This is one of the most important kitchen gadgets, because it allows you to easily determine if your food is properly cooked. Reference this chart for proper internal temperatures.
Thawing foods in the wrong place
Never thaw food on the counter or in the microwave. Try to plan your meals so you know when to defrost things from the freezer, and thaw them in the main part of the fridge.
Trusting your common room microwave
It is common in college settings for various appliances (iron, fridges, hair dryers) to compete for electric current, and as a consequence, they may not work as effectively. If you use a strange microwave, make sure to double-check your food using the thermometer.
Failing to guard against cross contamination
This begins in the grocery store when you place things in your shopping cart. Make sure your meat does not drip onto your fresh fruits or vegetables. If using reusable bags, wrap meat separately and throw the bags in the laundry when you get home. When preparing food, use different cutting boards and knives and wash your hands between steps. (See How to Prevent Food Poisoning From Leafy Greens and Other Contaminated Foods.)
As always, remember the golden rules of food safety: Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill.
Using leftover plastic containers in the microwave
The heat can cause them to warp and let harmful chemicals penetrate the food items.