What comes to mind when you think of a clean kitchen? Shiny waxed floors? Gleaming stainless steel sinks? Spotless counters and neatly arranged cupboards? They can help, but a truly “clean” kitchen–that is, one that ensures safe food–relies on more than just looks: It also depends on safe food practices.
In a home, food safety concerns revolve around three main functions: food storage, food handlings, and cooking. To see how well you’re doing in each, take this quiz, and then read on to learn how you can make the meals and snacks from your kitchen the safest possible.
Refrigerators should stay at 41 F (5 C) or less, but, according to Robert Buchanan, Ph.D., food safety initiative lead scientist in the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, many people overlook the importance of maintaining an appropriate refrigerator temperature.
“According to surveys, in many households, the refrigerator temperature is above 50 degrees (10 C),” he said. His advice: Measure the temperature with a thermometer and, if needed, adjust the refrigerator’s temperature control dial. A temperature of 41 F (5 C) or less is important because it slows the growth of most bacteria. The temperature won’t kill the bacteria, but it will keep them from multiplying, and the fewer there are, the less likely you are to get sick from them. Freezing at zero F (minus 18 C) or less stops bacterial growth (although it won’t kill all bacteria already present).
You should never let a soup of some sort stay out. When you let dishes sit in water for a long time, it “creates a soup,” FDA’s Buchanan said. “The food left on the dish contributes nutrients for bacteria, so the bacteria will multiply.” When washing dishes by hand, he said, it’s best to wash them all within two hours. Also, it’s best to air-dry them so you don’t handle them while they’re wet.
You should sanitize your Kitchen sink, disposal, and connecting pipe for several weeks at a time. The kitchen sink drain, disposal and connecting pipe are often overlooked, but they should be sanitized periodically by pouring down the sink a solution of 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) of chlorine bleach in 1 quart (about 1 liter) of water or a solution of commercial kitchen cleaning agent made according to product directions. Food particles get trapped in the drain and disposal and, along with the moistness, create an ideal environment for bacterial growth.
Hot foods should be refrigerated as soon as possible within two hours after cooking. But don’t keep the food if it’s been standing out for more than two hours. Don’t taste test it, either. Even a small amount of contaminated food can cause illness
Date leftovers so they can be used within a safe time. Generally, they remain safe when refrigerated for three to five days. If in doubt, throw it out; It’s not worth a food-borne illness for the small amount of food usually involved.
You should always clean your kitchen with hot water and soup, and some commercial sanitizing agent of some sort. Improper washing, such as with a damp cloth, will not remove bacteria. And washing only with soap and water may not do the job, either. Washing only with soap and water may not do the job, either.
Fish products are defrosted by lip the point of a sharp knife into the flesh and pull aside. The edges should be opaque and the center slightly translucent with flakes beginning to separate. Let the fish stand three to four minutes to finish cooking.
For shrimp, lobster and scallops, check color. Shrimp and lobster and scallops, red and the flesh become pearly opaque. Scallops turn milky white or opaque and firm. For clams, mussels and oysters, watch for the point at which their shells open. Boil three to five minutes longer. Throw out those that stay closed.
If you don t a meat thermometer, there are other ways to determine whether seafood is done using the microwave, rotate the dish several times to ensure even cooking. Follow recommended standing times. After the standing time is completed, check the seafood in several spots with a meat thermometer to be sure the product has reached the proper temperature.
If you cook cookie dough with raw egg, you’re violating an important food safety rule: Never allow raw meat, poultry and fish to come in contact with other foods, you may be putting yourself at risk for infection with Salmonella enteritidis, a bacterium that can be in shell eggs. Cooking the egg or egg-containing food product to an internal temperature of at least 145 F (63 C) kills the bacteria.
Foods containing raw eggs, such as homemade ice cream, cake batter, mayonnaise, and eggnog, carry a Salmonella risk, but their commercial counterparts don’t. Commercial products are made with pasteurized eggs; that is, eggs those have been heated sufficiently to kill bacteria, and also may contain an acidifying agent that kills the bacteria. Commercial preparations of cookie dough are not a food hazard.
If you want to sample homemade dough or batter or eat other foods with raw-egg-containing products, consider substituting pasteurized eggs for raw eggs. Pasteurized eggs are usually sold in the grocer’s refrigerated dairy case.
Some other tips to ensure egg safety: Buy only refrigerated eggs, and keep them refrigerated until you are ready to cook and serve them. Cook eggs thoroughly until both the yolk and white are firm, not runny, and scramble until there is no visible liquid egg. Cook pasta dishes and stuffing s that contain eggs thoroughly.
Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food, especially raw meat, poultry and fish. If you have an infection or cut on your hands, wear rubber or plastic gloves. Wash gloved hands just as often as bare hands because the gloves can pick up bacteria. (However, when washing gloved hands, you don’t need to take off your gloves and wash your bare hands, too.)
When micro waving, follow package directions. Leave about 2 inches (about 5 centimeters) between the food and the inside surface of the microwave to allow heat to circulate. Smaller items will defrost more evenly than larger pieces of food. Foods defrosted in the microwave oven should be cooked immediately after thawing. Do not thaw meat, poultry and fish products on the counter or in the sink without cold water; bacteria can multiply rapidly at room temperature.
Marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Discard the marinade after use because it contains raw juices, which may harbor bacteria. If you want to use the marinade as a dip or sauce, reserve a portion before adding raw food.
When buying fresh seafood, buy only from reputable dealers who keep their products refrigerated or properly iced. Be wary, for example, of vendors selling fish out of their creel (canvas bag) or out of the back of their truck.
Once you buy the seafood, immediately put it on ice, in the refrigerator or in the freezer. Some other tips for choosing safe seafood:
+ Don’t buy cooked seafood, such as shrimp, crabs or smoked fish, if displayed in the same case as raw fish. Cross-contamination can occur. Or, at least, make sure the raw fish is on a level lower than the cooked fish so that the raw fish juices don’t flow onto the cooked items and contaminate them.
+ Don’t buy frozen seafood if the packages are open, torn or crushed on the edges. Avoid packages that are above the frost line in the store’s freezer. If the package cover is transparent, look for signs of frost or ice crystals. This could mean that the fish has either been stored for a long time or thawed and refrozen.
+ As with meat and poultry, if seafood will be used within two days after purchase, store it in the coldest part of the refrigerator, usually under the freezer compartment or in a special “meat keeper.” Avoid packing it in tightly with other items; allow air to circulate freely around the package. Otherwise, wrap the food tightly in moisture-proof freezer paper or foil to protect it from air leaks and store in the freezer.
+ Discard shellfish, such as lobsters, crabs, oysters, clams and mussels, if they die during storage or if their shells crack or break. Live shellfish close up whe the shell is tapped.
If you are under treatment for any of these diseases, as well as several others, you should avoid raw seafood. Give yourself two points for knowing one or more of the risky conditions.
These conditions include liver disease, either from excessive alcohol use, viral hepatitis, or other causes, hemochromatosis, an iron disorder, diabetes, stomach problems, including previous stomach surgery and low stomach acid (for example, from antacid use), cancer , immune disorders, including HIV infection, and long-term steroid use, as for asthma and arthritis .
Older adults also may be at increased risk because they more often have these conditions. People with these diseases or conditions should never eat raw seafood — only seafood that has been thoroughly cooked.
Home-Based Food-Borne Illness
When several members of a household come down with sudden, severe diarrhea and vomiting, intestinal flu is often considered the likely culprit. But food poisoning may be another consideration. A true diagnosis is often never made because the ill people recover without having to see a doctor.
Health experts believe this is a common situation in households across the country, and because a doctor is often not seen for this kind of illness, the incidence of food-borne illness is not really known.
A task force of the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, a private organization of food science groups, estimated in 1994 that 6.5 million to 33 million cases of food-borne illness occur in the United States each year. While many reported cases stem from food prepared by commercial or institutional establishments, sporadic cases and small outbreaks in homes are considered to be far more common, according to the April 1995 issue of Food Technology.
Cases of home-based food-borne illness may become a bigger problem, some food safety experts say, partly because today’s busy family may not be as familiar with food safety issues as more home-focused families of past generations. I believe that if you follow all the safety precautions, you won t have to worry about any of these diseases. Remember to discard any kinds of leftover food that wouldn t kill you if you threw it out, but if you kept it, it just might.