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October 1998

Expert says clean kitchens need more than shiny floors

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Shiny floors, spotless counters and neatly arranged cupboards are all tell-tale signs of a clean kitchen, right? Not so, says Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service educator Julie Gray.

Gray, a registered dietitian based in Indianapolis, said these things can help, but a truly clean kitchen relies on more than just good looks -- it ensures food safety through the three main operations that are performed there: food storage, food handling and cooking.

"Millions of people contract food-borne illness each year," Gray said. "Most don't realize they have it; they think they have the 24-hour flu. Proper food handling practices can help people avoid these food-borne illnesses."

One trap people fall into, Gray said, is the belief that "We always do it that way, and no one ever gets sick." But that doesn't mean it won't happen. Many people are simply unaware that some of their food-handling practices can be dangerous.

To check out their food safety habits, consumers can take the following quiz, which is an abbreviated version of a test that appeared in the October 1995 edition of FDA Consumer magazine.

  1. The temperature in my refrigerator is:
    a. 50 degrees Fahrenheit; b. 41 degrees Fahrenheit; c. I don't know; I've never checked

  2. The last time the kitchen sink, drain, disposal and connecting pipe in my home were sanitized was:
    a. last night; b. several weeks ago; c. can't remember

  3. Meat fish and poultry are defrosted in my home by:
    a. setting them on the counter; b. placing them in the refrigerator; c. microwaving

  4. The last time there was cookie dough in my house, the dough was:
    a. made with raw eggs, and I sampled some of it; b. store bought, and I sampled it; c. not sampled until baked

  5. The last time we had hamburgers in my home, I ate mine:
    a. rare; b. medium; c. well-done

To determine your food-safety savvy, examine your answers based on the following answers and rationale.

  1. Answer B. Refrigerators should stay at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or less to slow the growth of most bacteria. This temperature will not kill the bacteria, but it will keep them from multiplying. The fewer bacteria there are, the less likely you are to get sick. Measure the temperature with a thermometer and, if needed, adjust the refrigerator's temperature control dial.

  2. Answer A is best. According to the Food and Drug Administration, the kitchen drain, disposal and pipe are often overlooked. They should be sanitized periodically by pouring a solution of one teaspoon bleach mixed in one quart of warm water down the drain. Food particles get trapped in the drain and create an ideal environment for bacteria growth.

  3. Answers B or C are correct if the food is cooked immediately. Never thaw meat, fish, or poultry on the counter or in a sink of cold water. Bacteria can multiply rapidly at room temperature.

  4. Answer B or C. If you answered A, you may be putting your family -- especially the elderly and children -- at risk for Salmonella enteritidis , a bacteria that can be found in raw eggs. Commercial products are made from pasteurized eggs, eggs that have been heated long enough to destroy the Salmonella bacteria.

  5. Answer C. Hamburgers must be cooked until they reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. The only way to properly determine this temperature is to use a meat thermometer. Rare, or even medium, cooked hamburgers can cause E-coli or many other types of food poisoning.

"The most common mistakes people make are thawing food outside the refrigerator and not cooking hamburger until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit," Gray said. "But the number one mistake is probably not washing hands or not properly washing hands."

The best habit to form, she said, is to wash hands frequently -- after handling uncooked meats, fish or poultry; before touching food after handling money; and after using the bathroom. Proper hand-washing involves using soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Gray suggests keeping liquid soap at all household sinks.

The entire test is available on the Web at http://www.fda.gov/fdac/features/895_kitchen.html. Or for a free copy of the entire food safety test, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Gray at the Marion County Cooperative Extension Service, 9245 N. Meridian St., No. 118, Indianapolis, IN 46260-1874.

Source: Julie Gray, (317) 848-7351; e-mail, julie@marion.ces.purdue.edu

Writer: Jane Houin, (765) 423-2890; e-mail, news_students@aes.purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail, purduenews@purdue.edu


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