Food Safety in the Home

Do you remember being a child and being excited upon returning home from a trip to the supermarket? You sorted through all the packages and looked for the opportunity to sample any treat that managed, with your assistance, to escape its wrapping. The kitchen was an exciting place with tasty morsels waiting to be eaten. Parents, on the other hand, tried to maintain the order and cleanliness of the kitchen. The kitchen was presumed clean if the counter was crumb-free and all indicators of a meal being served were gone. Today, we know better than to believe that it takes more than a clutter-, dish-, or crumb-free kitchen to ensure that food is safe for consumption.

Cross-contamination in the kitchen is one of the leading causes of food-related illness. Cross-contamination is the transfer of harmful bacteria to food from other foods, cutting boards, utensils, etc., if they are not handled properly.1 This contamination is especially risky when handling raw meat, poultry, and seafood.2 Simply washing the touched item may not solve the problem of cross-contamination if the item is washed improperly. To help lower the risk of cross-contamination, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends using smooth cutting boards made of hard maple or a non-porous material like plastic. Also, the cutting board should be free of cracks or crevices that can retain juices from a previously cut item. After use, the cutting board and any used utensil should be thoroughly scrubbed to remove any food particles and then sanitized by cleansing in a dishwasher. If you do not have a dishwasher, the FDA recommends rinsing dishes in a solution that contains one (1) teaspoon of chlorine bleach and one (1) quart of water.3 You may also consider using one cutting board for raw foods like chicken and beef, and another cutting board for ready-to-eat food like bread, fresh fruit, or vegetables.

Cross-contamination may occur from bacteria on a countertop or from your own handling of the food. For example, if meat or another contaminant drips onto your counter and you then place a head of lettuce or other raw food over that area, the dangers may have spread to the lettuce. According to the FDA, bleach and commercial kitchen cleaners are the most effective cleaning agents as long as they are used and diluted according to the proper specifications. Hot water and soap does a good job but it does not kill as many strains of bacteria as does bleach or the commercial cleaners.

You should wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least twenty seconds before and after handling food. If you have any cuts or infection on your hands, wear gloves. Wash your gloved hands just as often as you would your bare hands because gloves can pick up and transmit bacteria between foods just as easily as can your skin.

Other tips for keeping your kitchen and food safe are: (1) while shopping, select refrigerated and frozen items after selecting non-perishables so that the time out of refrigeration between the store and your home is minimal; (2) while shopping, place raw meat, poultry, and fish in plastic bags so that their juices do not leak and contaminate ready-to-eat foods like fruit and vegetables; (3) perishable food should be wrapped securely to maintain quality and to prevent meat juices form getting onto other food; and, (4) meat and poultry that you defrost in the refrigerator may be refrozen before or after cooking, but if it was thawed by another method, cook it before refreezing.

Remember that the kitchen can be a source of great epicurean delight, but can also cause serious illness if food is not handled properly. This guide contains a few suggestions that may help prevent food borne illnesses in the home, but these are not the only ways to enhance food safety for you and your family. For further information, contact the Federal Food Safety and Inspection Service Food Safety Education staff at 1-888-674-6854 or 1-800-256-7072 (TDD/TTY).

1 Be Smart. Keep Foods Apart. Don't Cross-Contaminate.
2 Id.
3 Can your Kitchen Pass the Food Safety test?

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