Answers: Can Your Kitchen Pass the Food Safety Test?
- (b) Refrigerators should stay at 41° F (5° C) or less. According to Joseph Madden, Ph.D., strategic manager for microbiology 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° (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 (–18° C) or less stops bacterial growth (although it won't kill all bacteria already present).
- (b) 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, says former FDA microbiologist Jeffery Rhodehamel, now with W. R. Grace and Co. “It's not worth a food-borne illness for the small amount of food usually involved.”
- (a) is the best answer; (b) is also acceptable. According to FDA's Madden, 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, when combined with the moistness, create an ideal environment for bacterial growth.
- (c) Washing with soap and hot water and then sanitizing with a mild bleach solution is the safest practice, said Dhirendra Shah, director of the division of microbiological studies in FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. If you picked (a), you're violating an important food safety rule: Never allow raw meat, poultry, and fish to come in contact with other foods. Answer (b) isn't good, either. Improper washing, such as with a damp cloth, will not remove bacteria.
- (c) The safest way to eat hamburgers is to cook them until they are no longer red in the middle and the juices run clear. That doesn't happen with rare-cooked meats, and it may not happen with medium-cooked ones. Cooking food, including ground-meat patties, to an internal temperature of at least 160° F (71° F) usually protects against food-borne illness. Well-done meats reach that temperature. To be on the safe side, check cooked meat, fish, and poultry with a meat thermometer to ensure that they have reached a safe internal temperature. For microwaved food, follow directions, including the standing time, either in or out of the microwave, after cooking. Microwave cooking creates pockets of heat in the food, but allowing the food to stand before eating allows the heat to spread to the rest of the food.
- Answers (c) or (d) are acceptable; answer (b) is partially acceptable. According to FDA's Madden, bleach and commercial kitchen-cleaning agents are the best sanitizers—provided they're diluted according to product directions. They're the most effective at getting rid of bacteria. Hot water and soap does a good job, too, but may not kill all strains of bacteria. Water may get rid of visible dirt, but not bacteria. Also, be sure to keep dishcloths and sponges clean because, when wet, these materials harbor bacteria and may promote their growth.
- Answers (a) and (c) are acceptable; there are potential problems with (b) and (d). When you let dishes sit in water for a long time, it “creates a soup,” FDA's Madden 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.
- The only correct practice is answer (c). 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.)
- (b) or (c). Food safety experts recommend thawing foods in the refrigerator or the microwave oven or putting the package in a water-tight plastic bag submerged in cold water and changing the water every 30 minutes. Changing the water ensures that the food is kept cold, an important factor for slowing bacterial growth that may occur on the outer thawed portions while inner areas are still thawing. 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.
- If you answered (a) you may be putting yourself at risk for infection with Salmonella enteritidis, a bacterium that can be found in eggs. Cooking the egg or egg-containing food product to at least 140° F (60° C) kills the bacteria. So answer (c)—eating the baked product—is your best bet. Answer (b), however, is acceptable as well. 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 that 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.
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