6 Common Yet Dangerous Food Prep Mistakes That Are Making You Sick

Use these simple tricks to make your food supply safer.

August 4, 2017
preparing dinner in kitchen
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Cancer causers at your cookout? A hidden brain-damaging agent in your morning hash browns? Potentially fatal superbugs lurking in your supermarket meat? The research on our food system is enough to wipe out your appetite.

(Start eating real food and never go on a pesky diet again with Rodale's Eat Clean, Lose Weight, And Love Every Bite, clean eating with zero deprivation.)

Luckily, you can easily sidestep many food system threats as long as you avoid these 6 dangerous food mistakes... 

charred meat
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Cremating your meat

The Threat

Heterocyclic amines, or HCAs, are carcinogenic compounds created when meat is heated up. This barbecue bummer has been shown to increase the risk of breast, lung, stomach, pancreatic, and prostate cancers.

The Fix

Master the marinade. The American Institute for Cancer Research found that marinating meat can lower HCAs by as much as 99 percent. A Kansas State University study found that marinating steaks lowered HCAs by 87 percent. Rosemary marinades are particularly protective. Food Safety Consortium tests found ginger root, rosemary, and turmeric—all high in antioxidants—curb HCAs in cooked meat, even when cooking is at high temps. (Rosemary is most protective.) Using avocado oil can help, too. The oil—rich in cholesterol-lowering monounsaturated fatty acids—has a high smoke point, reducing harmful oil oxidation.

Related: 10 Crazy Things Pesticides Are Doing To Your Body

potatoes
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Skipping the soak

The Threat

A 2011 study in Environmental Health found more than 95 percent of preschool children ingested potentially damaging levels of acrylamide, a naturally occurring compound formed when starchy foods are cooked at 250° F or higher. Based on lab animal studies, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified acrylamide as a "probable human carcinogen."

Other scientists found a link between chronic dietary exposure to acrylamide and damaged nerve cells in the brain, signaling acrylamide could promote neurodegenerative disease, including Alzheimer's.

The Fix

You don't have to write off mashed potatoes (like this extra easy recipe). Before cooking any spuds, first soak the raw, sliced potatoes in water for two hours to slash acrylamide by nearly 50 percent. Low on time? Even a 30-second rinse lowers acrylamide levels by more than 20 percent. Whatever you do, avoid storing potatoes in the refrigerator (along with these other do-not-refrigerate foods) that actually encourages them to produce more acrylamide during cooking.

Related: 13 Hidden Sources Of Indoor Air Pollution

burned toast
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Burning your toast

The Threat

Toasting your bread until it's very dark also sends acrylamide levels soaring. In fact, many processed foods like crackers and cookies contain acrylamide because the food industry created the high-carb snacks at high temperatures.

The Fix

Choose a lighter toast. Better yet, try baking your own bread. A 2008 Danish study found that adding rosemary to the dough before making wheat buns lowered the buns' acrylamide content by up to 60 percent. Even adding just a small amount of rosemary—1 percent of the dough—significantly lowered acrylamide levels.

Related: 9 Cooking Methods That Make Your Food Toxic

white rice chicken dinner
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Ingesting arsenic

The Threat

Two recent reports from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Consumer Reports found worrisome levels of the carcinogen arsenic in rice and rice-based processed foods.

The Fix

Environmental Working Group, a consumer-advocacy group, suggests rinsing brown rice through before you cook it (as well as these other strategies to keep your family arsenic-free). A good rinse could lower arsenic levels by 30 to 40 percent. (This doesn't work with white rice.) For babies, consider orange vegetables as a first food instead of rice-based cereal, suggests EWG, or cook your rice in a coffee pot. Really. 

Related: 10 Foods Wrecking Your Body Temple

deviled eggs
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Underestimating unwanted warm-ups

The Threat

Picnics mean deviled eggs and macaroni and potato salad. But allowing these cookout staples to stay out too long could leave your guests with a nasty stomach bug.

"The two main problems of foodborne illness in the U.S." says Williamson, "are not cooking food to a high-enough temperature, and leaving food out at an unsafe temperature." Don't leave any food items out for longer than two hours, she adds, and in very hot, 90-degree-plus temperatures, take it inside after an hour.

The Fix

Scrub fruits and veggies used in salads thoroughly before cutting. Keep deviled eggs and salads cold—packed in a cooler that's filled 75 percent with food and 25 percent with ice or frozen drinks or cold packs, to allow cold air to circulate freely. Cold food should be kept at 40° F or below.

Related: Food Poisoning Or Flu? How To Tell The Difference

raw chicken
6/6 PhotoAlto/Milena Boniek/Getty Images
Getting sloppy with superbugs

The Threat

According to a recent analysis, 87 percent of supermarket meat contains antibiotic-resistant bacteria, hard-to-kill germs that in some cases could be fatal.

The Fix

Simple food-safety measures like storing meat on the lowest rack of your refrigerator (away from produce), using separate cutting boards for meat and fruits and veggies, and using a food thermometer can help combat infections. While all meat should be treated carefully to avoid foodborne disease, choose organic when you can. Other tests have shown organic meats harbor fewer antibiotic-resistant germs, likely because they aren't from animals overfed antibiotics, the standard practice in industrial, nonorganic agriculture.

Related: 11 Summer Food Safety Tips

The article 6 Dangerous Food Prep Mistakes That Make You Sick originally appeared on Rodale Wellness.

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