15 March 2016 How do you rate with your home kitchen safety?

There seems to be no shortage of news stories about an E. coli outbreak traced to a restaurant chain or listeria traced to produce from a food company. It’s human nature for us to get alarmed about these incidents and place blame on restaurants, produce companies and other public sources of our food supply. But, how clean and safe is your very own kitchen? Are you taking the time to practice food safety in your home or are you putting your loved ones and yourself at unnecessary risk of foodborne illness. OK, so your home kitchen won’t be paid a surprise visit by the state food safety inspector, who could shut down your business. Why not assume the role of food safety inspector and make a safety check of your home kitchen?

Foodborne illness (aka food poisoning) is an infection or irritation of the digestive tract caused by food or beverage that contains harmful substances, such as bacteria, viruses, parasites or molds. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million (about 1 in 6) Americans get ill, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3000 individuals die each year from foodborne illness. Learn more about the incidence, common culprits and seriousness of foodborne illness by visiting www.fightbac.org, a science-based, expert site on food safety.

Common symptoms of foodborne illness include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever and chills. It is often mistaken for the flu, and it can be difficult to tell the difference. The flu usually includes respiratory symptoms, like a cough, nasal congestion, sore throat and runny nose, while foodborne illness has more nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Check out this handy chart to help you decide if it’s the flu or foodborne illness.

Certain groups of people are most vulnerable to foodborne illness, including children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

Basic Tips for a Safe Home Kitchen

Keep it clean

Wash your hands well before, during and after handling food. Experts tell us that proper hand washing may eliminate about half of all food poisoning. Wash hands for at least 20 seconds, including the backs of hands, between fingers, and under the nails. Always wash hands after handling raw meat, poultry and seafood.

Clean surfaces. Keep a spray bottle of equal parts white vinegar and water to spray on and wipe counters, stove tops or refrigerator surfaces. Wipe handles and doorknobs with this solution also. The acetic acid in vinegar is an excellent disinfectant against bacteria and mold. Vinegar is cheap and also cuts cooking odors.

Wash dishcloths and towels often using the hot cycle of your washing machine. Put sponges and scrubbers through the dishwasher cycle weekly and include the sanitizer cycle of the washer.

Clean and replace sponges. You can soak sponges in bleach or vinegar water (1 cup bleach or vinegar to 1 gallon of water) to sanitize. Replace worn sponges.

Wash produce before eating, whether organic or conventional. Don’t forget to give your melon, squash or other produce with peels a wash, even if you don’t eat the peel. Cutting into an unclean fruit or vegetable can spread the bacteria into the edible part you eat.

Clean cutting boards. Use hard plastic or glass cutting boards for cutting raw meats, poultry and seafood. They are less porous than wooden boards. Throw out cutting boards with cracks or deep cuts. Wash cutting boards with hot soapy water or run through the dishwasher after each use.

Don’t cross-contaminate

Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs separate from ready-to-eat foods to prevent bacterial contamination from the uncooked foods. Store them on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator in case they drip. Clean up spills promptly with hot, soapy water or vinegar.

Use separate utensils and cutting boards for raw and cooked foods.

Wash reusable grocery totes regularly and when visibly soiled. Store them in a cool place, not in the hot car. Bring raw animal foods home in a separate tote or in a plastic disposable bag.

Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold

Use a food thermometer to check if cooked foods are done. Don’t rely on sight or taste alone. Download the free phone app, Is My Food Safe? (available for Android and Apple phones). It can easily tell you the safe cooking temperature for foods.

Keep hot foods hot after cooking, at 140°F or above. The possibility of bacterial growth actually increases as food cools below this temperature.

Follow the two hour rule. Quickly refrigerate foods after cooking to slow bacteria growth. Place hot foods into smaller storage containers to cool quickly before refrigerating.

Check the refrigerator temperature. It should be set at 40°F or below. The freezer should be at 0°F or below.

If in doubt, throw it out. If you are unsure of an expiration date or how long a food has been in the refrigerator, toss it. Another useful phone app is the USDA’s Foodkeeper app. It is user-friendly and has specific storage timelines for food storage.

Follow the “FIFO” rule. “First in, first out” means storing newer items behind older ones so you use the older ones first.

Date your foods. Keep a marker handy to date items so you don’t have to guess when you made or opened it.

It’s not possible or necessary to have a completely sterile kitchen, but why not decrease the chances of getting sick from food?

Websites to save to your favorites for food safety reference include:
www.foodsafety.gov
www.eatright.org/resources/homefoodsafety

Brenda Braslow, MS, RD, CDE

Brenda is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in Denver,

Colorado who specializes in diabetes prevention and health enhancement.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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