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Food Safety Starts In The Home Kitchen
Your Food Safety Connection
During the past year in the United States, we have had several foodborne outbreaks from contaminated lettuce, spinach, green onions, and peanut butter. Millions of people in our country have been afraid to purchase these food items because of the risk of becoming ill. There have also been several recalls of meats in 2007. In actuality, more people become sick due to poor food handling practices in their own home kitchens, rather than eating foods that may have been contaminated at the processing plant or in the fields.
In truth most people are not
aware of their bad food safety habits in their home kitchens, so whatever
a person does wrong in handling food in an unsafe manner at home is
automatically mimicked while handling food in other environments, such
as the work place.
Each year the CDC (Center for
Disease Control) documents over 76-million cases of foodborne illness
in our country, and according to Luke LaBorde, PHD in food science at
Pennsylvania State University, a large majority of those illnesses originate
in the home kitchens.
Throughout the past year, there
have been several food safety news items or alerts via television, but
how many people really listen and make positive changes from these 30-second
Correct hand washing is one of the most important things to remember in a home kitchen or elsewhere. Wiping the hands on a dry towel or apron to satisfy one.s instinct for cleaning the hands is wrong. Wet or dry fabric (cloth) harbors bacterium, and instead of getting rid of the unseen bacteria from one.s hands, the bacterium on the towel or apron is adding even more contamination to the hands. It is critical to wash your hands with hot water and soap before and after handling any type of food in a kitchen, and especially raw meats, poultry and
seafood. Wash the hands
for 20 to 40-seconds and pay attention to the nails and cuticle areas
of the hands. Always dry the hands with a disposable paper towel.
If you have sponges in the
kitchen, get rid of them. Sponges are always cesspools of bacteria.
Wet kitchen washcloths are also another area of concern for holding
and spreading bacteria from one area of a kitchen to another. Kitchen
washcloths should be soaked daily in a solution of clean water, with
a capful of bleach added to the water. The chlorine in the bleach will
kill the bacteria build-up in the kitchen washcloth. Laundry the kitchen
Be careful of the kitchen sink.
All kitchen sinks are contaminated with bacteria, due to washing the
hands and other raw and contaminated foods in the sink with running
water. NEVER allow any type of food to touch the inside of a
kitchen sink. NEVER soak any type of food in a kitchen sink for
cleaning, which would include fruits, raw vegetables, or greens for
salad. Above all, never wash or thaw raw frozen meats,
seafood, or poultry in a kitchen sink. Washing raw protein
foods in a kitchen sink adds millions of bacterium to the already unsafe
area, and the splashing of the raw juices from the protein foods may
contaminate the counter tops or cutting boards around the sink area.
Always thaw frozen protein foods (protected in a wrapped container)
on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator for several days before cooking.
If you use pre-packaged
salad greens or vegetables in your menu, the processing plants have
already triple washed these foods in chlorinated water. Washing these
food items again at home will not decrease any more bacteria in the
fresh produce. Plain water does not kill bacteria. If using regular
unprocessed lettuce, discard the outside leaves, which have been touched
by human hands. Wash your hands, and then rinse the remaining lettuce
under running water in the sink. Be careful not to let the lettuce touch
any physical place in the sink area. You are much safer to wash the
unprocessed lettuce as you get ready to use it and not ahead of time.
Washing fruits and vegetables before storing them in the refrigerator
promotes mold growth and spoilage in the foods, due to the damp moist
Refrigerators are breeding grounds for bacterial growth in foods. If a food is cooked at home and contains any type of meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, or dairy products, that food requires special care in thehome refrigerator. Once food is cooked, it is now referred to as ready-to-eat food, which means that it needs to be covered and stored on the top shelf of the home refrigerator to keep it safe from possible drips or contamination from other foods in the refrigerator. Cooked or home-prepared foods should never be kept more than seven days in a refrigerator before being discarded. Actually, the quality of any home cooked or prepared foods starts to suffer after about three days in the refrigerator. Bacteria in food continues to grow at refrigeration temperatures (400 F or lower), but at a slower rate. Eventually the outcome at the goal line will be the same; foodborne illness.
Many commercially prepared
foods have an expiration date on the container, so it is important to
watch those dates, and discard foods that have passed their expiration
dates; especially dairy foods. Sour cream, cottage cheese, yogurt and
many soft cheeses may look and smell fine long after the expiration
date, but do not be fooled by appearances. Deli meats and hot dogs,
if stored too long, are also another potentially dangerous food
in the refrigerator.
bacteria, which causes the listeriosis foodborne illness, is
commonly associated with ready-to-eat products such as
the foods listed above. This bacterium, unlike other types of bacteria,
grows and thrives in cool, moist environments such as the refrigerator.
Listeria monocytogenes bacteria cannot be seen or smelled in the foods
listed above after the expiration dates, but the probability of this
bacteria being there is greater than one might think.
Two last things concerning home refrigerators; make sure that the internal temperature of your home refrigerator is 400 F or lower. Many thermometers or dial settings in refrigerators do not work, so it is important to have a back-up thermometer in your refrigerator unit, which can be purchased from any
grocery or discount
store. The temperature danger zone is 410 F to 1350 F, so if your refrigerator
warms up to 410 F or above, most of
the food in the refrigerator will begin to grow bacteria, which can
lead to foodborne illness.
Last of all; never put hot
food into the refrigerator or freezer to cool down. Hot food placed
directly into a refrigerator causes the internal temperature of the
unit to warm up, which creates a danger zone for all other foods in
the refrigerator. It may take several hours for a warm unit to recover
the cool temperature of 400 F or lower, which puts all
foods in the unit at risk.
If you use cutting boards in
your home kitchen, make sure that you have at least two cutting boards.
Cutting boars used for cutting raw meat on should never be used
for cutting fruits or vegetables, or ready-to-eat foods such as breads.
Washing a cutting board with soap and hot water does
not kill bacteria. Only a sanitizing chemical can kill bacteria
on a cutting board or any hard surface that has been contaminated with
bacteria. After a contaminated cutting board has been washed with hot
water and soap, all soap film needs to be rinsed off. A sanitizing chemical
needs to be applied with a spray on the surface and then allowed to
dry on the cutting board. After the chemical has completely dried,
rinse the chemical off with clean running tap water and allow
to air dry. Never dry anything in a kitchen with a cloth. Two
chemicals that may be used for sanitizing in a home kitchen are:
(1) 1 cap full of bleach to
one quart of clean water in a spray bottle. Do not save the bleach
water (chlorine). Chlorine turns into a gas after being in water
for 45 minutes to an hour and quits working.
(2) Commercial spray sanitizers
from the supermarket are available, but read the labels to make sure
that the chemical chosen will kill most bacteria in a kitchen. Always
rinse all chemical sanitizers off after air-drying.
learned new information from this article, you now have changes
to make in your home kitchen. Both good and bad habits take time to
develop, and all habits cross over into the work place. If you are a
food handler in the General Aviation industry, leave the bad habits
behind and apply your new food safety knowledge in your food
handling responsibilities at work.
This is only a beginning in food safety knowledge. Get smart; learn food safety from an expert!
Jean Dible is president and founder of GA Food Safety Professionals, a mobile food & alcohol safety training school in Atlanta, GA. Jean is a contributing writer to the Corporate Flight Attendant Community website; her Your Food Safety Connection column appears here on a bi-monthly basis.
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