Mom’s bad habits don’t have to be yours.
You get your brains, brilliant multitasking abilities, and some of your best recipes from your mom, but you may have also picked up a few of her bad kitchen habits. That’s OK. After all, you’ve modeled yourself after her for so long, it’s expected you’d learn things that are, well, maybe not so great, too.
Of course, we shouldn’t discriminate and say these bad habits are all Mom’s fault. You may have learned them from Dad—or Gramma, Papa, or any other family member you’ve spent plenty of time with in a kitchen
These habits were learned, so they can be unlearned. We explain why you should stop them now—and why you may want to encourage Mom or Pop to stop, too.
1. She left breakfast leftovers on the counter all day.
Once everyone has cleared the breakfast table, Mom wraps up leftover biscuits, sausage, bacon, and any other salvageable bites, pops them into a plastic container, and… leaves them on the kitchen counter?!
Oh, Mom. No. It’s OK to leave food out on a counter at room temperature for two hours, but beyond that window, you put yourself in danger of bacterial contamination. These bacteria could lead to an upset stomach, cramps, even vomiting.
Spare yourself the risk, and pop any meat, eggs, sauces, or other ingredients (toast and biscuits can stay out) in the fridge. You can gently warm them up when you want a snack.
2. She thawed meat in the sink while at work.
We’ve all been there: You forgot you needed to thaw chicken for tonight’s dinner until you are ready to walk out the door for work. Eek! Quick! Pop the brick of ice that will be chicken breasts tonight into the sink and walk out, yes? That’s what Mom did after all.
But don’t. That’s a recipe for a serious bacterial dilemma. Like cooked food, you shouldn’t leave raw food out at room temperature more than two hours. In the warmer temps, bacteria can start to grow rapidly, and it may make you sick if you eat it later.
Proper thawing falls into three categories: in the refrigerator, under cold water, and in the microwave.
If you’ve got the time, pop any frozen foods into the fridge, and let them thaw thoroughly before you use them. Depending on what you’re thawing, you may need a full 24 hours.
In a pinch, both cold water thawing and microwave thawing will get the meat ready for cooking faster. Read our complete guide to freezing and thawing meat properly for more info.
3. She threw spaghetti against the wall to test its doneness.
Mom, you didn’t want the excuse to nibble a few extra strands of pasta? Come on!
This trick might work—sticky spaghetti will cling to a wall. But it also might not work because sticky spaghetti has less to do with doneness and more to do with, well, just being sticky.
Indeed, stickiness is absolutely no indication of doneness. Most cooks say that spaghetti should be cooked al dente, or to the tooth. That is, it should be tender with a bit of bite, but not mushy. Al dente pasta doesn’t have a particular level of stickiness, so it might be right to the tooth but wrong to the wall. If you wait until it sticks, you might overcook the pasta.
Taste test your spaghetti to know if it’s done. Pull a strand from the bubbling cauldron of pasta water. Let it cool for a sec, then give it a bite. If it’s done, it’s time to drain. If it’s not, give it a few more minutes. Spare your wall the spaghetti splatter.
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4. She rinsed chicken in the kitchen sink.
This bird bath should not be repeated in your kitchen. Period.
First, it’s just not necessary. Yes, chicken is often packaged with a bit of a sodium solution to keep it plump and looking juicy, but rinsing the chicken opens your kitchen up to a spray of bacteria. Indeed, research shows rinsing chicken can send spritz of germs as far as three feet from the sink.
Mom probably does this because her mom probably did, too, but we know a bit more about bacteria now. Keep your kitchen cleaner, and just pat dry your chicken with paper towels if you want to remove the excess moisture.
Can’t quit the rinse? Sanitize your entire sink and up to three feet around it—including your apron and the floor—to keep from sharing any potentially illness-inducing germs with others.
5. She stashed tomatoes in the fridge’s crisper drawer.
Mom manages to let meat sit out all day, leftovers, too, but for tomatoes, she puts them right into the crisper? What a contradiction, that woman!
Cold storage is all wrong for tomatoes and many other fruits and vegetables, too—potatoes, onions, garlic, and bananas, to name a few. Underripe tomatoes will turn grainy in the chilly temps. The flavor also won’t get a proper chance to develop. You can still eat these ruby red fruits, but the experience will be less than thrilling.
Instead, leave tomatoes on your counter to ripen, and use them as soon as they’re ready. Then make a phone call to Mom to tell her how deliciously juicy this tomato you did not refrigerate tastes. Maybe she’ll get the hint.
The only time it’s OK to pop the tomato into the fridge? When it’s fully ripe (maybe almost too ripe) and you plan to use it in the next day. You won’t pick up much milliness when it’s fully ripe, and the cold storage will help prevent it from turning into mush before you can cook with it.
6. Margarine and whipped topping tubs were her good storage bowls.
No Thanksgiving is complete without a dig through Mom’s many (many!) plastic tubs so you can take home a few servings of her prized potato casserole. She thought she was just buying butter, but bonus! She got a really nice storage container, too.
What mom’s missed since butter became healthy again, however, is that these food containers really shouldn’t be used a second (or third or fourth) time. Many of these containers are made with plastics that just weren’t designed for washing and reusing.
Plastics marked with #3, #6, and #7 should not be reused again. Put them straight to recycling. Other numbers are likely OK, but try to avoid heating anything in them. Put the food on a plate before you pop it into a microwave. Better yet, start using glass storage containers.
7. She put cracked and emptied egg shells back in the carton.
This is a head-scratcher, Mom. We’ve got to be honest. Why would you put used egg shells back beside the unused ones?
Whatever her reason, it’s time you stopped. Once you crack an egg and empty its content, take the step to the trash, and drop the shell in. Bacteria that live inside the egg could be spread to the unused eggs, and you could put yourself or other eaters at risk for an upset tummy.
While we’re at it, don’t reuse the egg carton either. Those little egg cups can be reservoirs for bacteria, and the germs can spread between batches of eggs. Recycle those, too.
8. Her dishcloth cleaned plates, wiped counters, and sanitized door handles. It may have even cleaned your face.
Consider that piece of cloth or sponge a germ mop. Everywhere Mom wiped, germs followed.
There’s no harm in using cloth towels or sponges. In fact, they’re a wonderfully eco-friendly alternative to paper towels. But, when that towel or sponge is used to do everything from clean the dinner plates to wipe down the inside of the fridge—and you can’t remember the last time you changed it out—you need to give it a break.
Many of these cleaning utensils stay damp, too, which means bacteria have plenty of time to multiply. Keep a stash of towels on hand so you can use clean ones frequently. If you prefer a sponge, you can microwave it (make sure it has no metal) for a minute on high to zap the germs, too.
9. You store bacon grease on the counter.
We were almost ready to lecture Mom on storing rendered bacon fat, but it turns out it’s both common and safe. However, there are a few things you should do to make it safer, and to help the grease last longer.
Once you’ve cooked your bacon, strain it through a fine-mesh sieve into a glass jar you’ve washed with soap and rinsed with hot water. Taking the solids out of the bacon fat will help the grease last longer without spoiling. These bits can also burn and turn bitter when you cook with the fat again later.
Lastly, go ahead and pop that jar in your fridge instead of storing it in your pantry or in a cabinet. This will slow down any rancidity that might develop, and if you keep it in the cooler temps, properly-stored bacon grease can last almost forever.