INTERNATIONAL FOOD SAFETY CONSULTANCY
DR WILLEM MARSMAN
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 millilitres) of chlorine bleach in 1 quart (about 1 litre) 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, along with the moistness, create an ideal environment for bacterial growth.
What comes to mind when you think of a clean kitchen? Shiny waxed floors? Gleaming stainless steel sinks? Spotless counters and neatly arranged cupboards?
They can help, but a truly “clean” kitchen – that is, one that ensures safe food – relies on more than just looks: It also depends on safe food practices.
In the home, food safety concerns revolve around three main functions: food storage, food handling, and cooking. To see how well you’re doing in each, take this quiz, and then read on to learn how you can make the meals and snacks from your kitchen the safest possible.
Choose the answer that best describes the practice in your household, whether or not you are the primary handler.
1. Refrigerators should stay at 41F (5C) or less, if you chose answer B, give yourself two points. If you didn’t, you’re not alone. According to Robert Buchanan, Ph.D., food safety initiative lead scientist in the Food and Drug Administration’s Centre for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, many people overlook the importance of maintaining an appropriate refrigerator temperature.
“ According to survey, in many households, the refrigerator temperature is above 50 degress (10C),” he said. His advice: Measure the temperature with a thermometer and, if needed, adjust the refrigerator’s temperature control dial. A temperature of 41F (5C) 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 (minus 18C) or less stops bacterial growth (although it won’t kill all bacteria already present).
2. Answer B is the best practice, give yourself two points if you picked it.
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, said FDA microbiologist Kelly Bunning, Ph.D., also with FDA’s food safety initiative: “It’s not worth a food-borne illness for the small amount of food usually involved.”
3. If answer A best describes your household’s practice, give yourself two points. Give yourself one point if you chose B.
According to FDA’s John Guzewich epidemiologist on FDA’s food safety initiative team, 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 (5milliliters) of chlorine bleach in 1 quart (about 1 litre) of water of a solution of commercial kitchen cleaning agent made according to product directions. Food particles get trapped in the drain and disposal and, along with the moistness, create an ideal environment for bacterial growth.
4. If answer D best describes your household’s practice, give yourself two points.
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. And washing only with soap and water may no do the job, either.
5. Give yourself two points if you picked answer C.
If you don’t have a meat thermometer, there are other ways to determine whether seafood is done:
For fish, slip the point of a sharp knife into the flesh and pull aside. The edges should be opaque and the center slightly translucent with flakes beginning to separate. Let the fish stand three to four minutes to finish cooking.
For shrimp, lobster and scallops, check color. Shrimp and lobster and scallops, red and the flesh becomes pearly opaque. Scallops turn milky white or opaque and firm.
For clams, mussels and oysters, watch for the point at which their shells open. Boil three to five minutes longer. Throw out those that stay closed.
When using the microwave, rotate the dish several times to ensure even cooking. Follow recommend standing times. After the standing time is completed, check the seafood in several spots with a meat thermometer to be sure the product has reached the proper temperature.
6. If you answered A, you may be putting yourself at risk for infection with Salmonella enteritidis, a bacterium that can be in shell eggs. Cooking the egg or egg-containing food product to an internal temperature of at least 145F (63C) kills the bacteria. So answer C – eating the baked product – will earn you two ponts.
You’ll get two points for answer B, also. 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.
Some other tips to ensure egg safety:
Buy only refrigerated eggs, and keep them refrigerated until you are ready to cook and serve them.
Cook eggs thoroughly until both the yolk and white are firm, not runny, and scramble until there is no visible liquid egg.
Cook pasta dishes and stuffings that contain eggs thoroughly.
7. Answers C or D will earn you two points each; answer B, one point. According to FDA’s Guzewish, 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.
8. Answers A and C are worth two points each. 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 Buchanan 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 then while they’re wet.
9. The only correct practice is answer C. Give yourself two points if you picked it.
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).
10. Give yourself two points if you picked B or C. Food safety experts recommend thawing foods in the refrigerator or the microwave oven or putting the package in water-tight plastic bag submerged in cold water and changing the water every 30 minutes. Gradual defrosting overnight is best because it helps maintain quality.
When microwaving, follow package directions. Leave about 2 inches (about 5 centimetres) between the food and the inside surface of the microwave to allow heat to circulate. Smaller items will defrost more evenly than large pieces of food. Foods defrosted in the microwave oven should be cooked immediately before thawing.
Do not thaw meat, poultry and fish products on the counter on in the sink without cold water; bacteria multiply rapidly at room temperature.
Marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Discard the marinade after use because it contains raw juices, which may harbor bacteria. If you want to use the marinade as a dip or sauce, reserve a portion before adding any raw food.
11. A and B are correct. Give yourself two points for either.
When buying fresh seafood, buy only from reputable dealers who keep their products refrigerated or properly iced. Be wary, for example, of vendors selling fish out of their creel (canvas bag) or out of the back of their truck.
Once you buy the seafood, immediately put it on ice, in the refrigerator or in the freezer. Some other tips for choosing safe seafood:
Don’t buy cooked seafood, such as shrimp, crabs or smoked fish, if displayed in the same case as raw fish. Cross-contamination can occur. Or, at least, make sure the raw fish is on a level lower than the cooked fish so that the raw fish juices don’t flow onto the cooked items and contaminate them.
Don’t buy frozen seafood if the packages are open, torn or crushed on the edges. Avoid packages that are above the frost line in the store’s freezers. If the package cover is transparent, look for signs of frost or ice crystals. This could mean that the fish has either been stored for long time or thawed and refrozen.
Recreational fishers who plan to eat their catch should follow state and local government advisories about fishing areas and eating fish from certain areas.
As with meat and poultry, if seafood will be used within two days after purchase, store it in the coldest part of the refrigerator, usually under the freezer compartment or in a special ‘meat keeper’. Avoid packing it in tightly with other items; allow air to circulate freely around the package. Otherwise, wrap the food tightly in moisture proof freezer paper or foil to protect it from air leaks and store in the freezer.
Discard shellfish, such as lobsters, crabs, oysters, clams and mussels, if they die during storage or if their shells crack or break. Live shellfish close up when the shell is tapped.
12. If you are under treatment for any of these diseases, as well as several others, you should avoid raw seafood. Give yourself two points for knowing one or more of the risky conditions.
People with certain diseases and conditions need to be especially careful because their diseases or the medicine they take may put them at risk for serious illness or death from contaminated seafood.
These conditions include:
liver disease, either from excessive alcohol use, viral hepatitis or other causes,
hemochromatosis, an iron disorder,
stomach problems, including previous stomach surgery and low stomach acid, (for example, from antacid use)
immune disorder, include HIV infection
long term steroid use, as for asthma and arthritis
Older adults also may be at increased risk because they more often have these conditions.
People with these disease or conditions should never eat raw seafood – only seafood that has been thoroughly cooked.
24 points: Feel confident about the safety of foods served in your home.
12 to 23 points: Re-examine food safety practices in your home. Some key rules are being violated.
11 points or below: Take steps immediately to correct food handling, storage and cooking techniques used in your home. Current practices are putting you and other members of your household in danger of food borne illness
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 pasteurised 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 pasteurised eggs for raw eggs. Pasteurised eggs are usually sold in the grocer’s refrigerated dairy case.
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 harbour bacteria and may promote their growth.
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 the inner areas are still thawing.
When microwaving, follow package directions. Leave about 2 inches (about 5 centimetres) 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 on in the sink without cold water; bacteria can multiply rapidly at room temperature.
Opening the front door on a cold winter evening and being greeted by the inviting smells of beef stew or chicken noodle soup wafting from a slow cooker can be a diner’s dream come true. But winter is not the only time a slow cooker is useful. In the summer, using this small appliance can avoid introducing heat from a hot oven. At any time of year, a slow cooker can make life a little more convenient because by planning ahead, you save time later. And it takes less electricity to use a slow cooker rather than an oven.
Yes, the slow cooker, a countertop appliance, cooks foods slowly at a low temperature - generally between 170° and 280°F. The low heat helps less expensive, leaner cuts of meat become tender and shrink less.
The direct heat from the pot, lengthy cooking and steam created within the tightly-covered container combine to destroy bacteria and make the slow cooker a safe process for cooking foods.
Begin with a clean cooker, clean utensils and a clean work area. Wash hands before and during food preparation.
Keep perishable foods refrigerated until preparation time. If you cut up meat and vegetables in advance, store them separately in the refrigerator. The slow cooker may take several hours to reach a safe, bacteria-killing temperature. Constant refrigeration assures that bacteria, which multiply rapidly at room temperature, won’t get a “head start” during the first few hours of cooking.
Always defrost meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker. Choose to make foods with a high moister content such as chilli, soup, stew or spaghetti sauce.
Cut foods into chunks or small pieces to ensure thorough cooking. Do not use the slow cooker for large pieces like a roast or whole chicken because the food will cook so slowly it could remain in the bacterial “danger zone” too long.
Fill cooker no less than half full and no more than two-thirds full. Vegetables cook slower than meat and poultry in a slow cooker so if using them, put vegetables in first, at the bottom and around sides of the utensil. Then add meat and cover the food with liquid such as broth, water or barbecue sauce. Keep the lid in place, removing only to stir the food or check for doneness.
Most cookers have two or more settings. Foods take different times to cook depending upon the setting used. Certainly, foods will cook faster on high than on low. However, for all-day cooking or for less-tender cuts, you may want to use the low setting.
If possible, turn the cooker on the highest setting for the first hour of cooking time and them to low or the setting called for in your recipe. However, it’s safe to cook foods on low the entire time - if you’re leaving for work, for example, and preparation time is limited.
While food is cooking and once it’s done, food will stay safe as long as the cooker is operating.
If you are not at home during the entire slow-cooking process and the power goes out, throw away the food even if its looks done.
If you are at home, finish cooking the ingredients immediately by some other means: on a gas stove, on the outdoor grill or at a house where the power is on.
When you are at home, and if the food was completely cooked before the power went out, the food should remain safe up to two hours in the cooker with the power off.
Store leftovers in shallow covered containers and refrigerate within two hours after cooing is finished. Reheating leftovers in a slow cooker is not recommended. However, cooked food can be brought to steaming on the stove top or in a microwave oven and then put into a preheated slow cooker to keep hot for serving.
Whether it’s off to school or work we go, millions carry “bag” lunches. Food brought from home can be kept safe if it is handled and cooked safely. Then, perishable food must be kept cold while commuting via bus, bicycle, on foot, in a car, or on the subway. After arriving at school or work, perishable food must be kept cold until lunchtime.
Why keep food cold? Harmful bacteria multiply rapidly in the “danger zone” - the temperature between 40° and 140°F. So, perishable food transported without an ice source won’t stay safe long. Here are safe handling recommendations to prevent foodborne illness from “bag” lunches.
Perishable food, such as raw or cooked meat and poultry, must be kept cold or frozen at the store and at home. Eggs should be purchased cold at the store and kept cold at home. In between, transport perishable food as fast as possible when no ice source is available. At the destination, it must be kept cold. Food should not be left out at room temperature more than 2 hours (1 hours if the temperature is above 90°F)
Prepackaged combos that contain luncheon meats along with crackers, cheese and condiments must also be kept refrigerated. This includes meats and smoked ham which are cured or contain preservatives.
Wash your hands before you prepare or eat food. Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next item. A solution of 1 teaspoon of bleach in 1 quart of water maybe used to sanitize surfaces and utensils. Keep family pets away from kitchen counters.
Harmful bacteria can spread throughout the kitchen and get onto cutting boards, utensils, and countertops. Always use a clean cutting board. When using a cutting board for food that will not be cooked, such as bread, lettuce and tomatoes, be sure to wash the board after using it to cut raw meat and poultry. Use on cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for meat and poultry.
At lunchtime, discard all used food packaging and paper bags. Do not reuse packaging because it could contain other food and cause foodborne illness.
Pack just the amount of perishable food that can be eaten at lunch. That way, there won’t be a problem about the storage or safety of leftovers.
It’s fine to prepare the food the night before and store the packed lunch in the refrigerator. Freezing sandwiches helps them stay cold. However, for best quality, don’t freeze sandwiches containing mayonnaise, lettuce or tomatoes. Add these later.
Insulated, soft-sided lunch boxed or bags are best for keeping food cold, but metal or plastic lunch boxed and paper bags can also be used. If using paper lunch bags, create layers by double bagging to help insulate the food. An ice source should be packed with perishable food in any type of lunch bag or box.
Prepare cooked food, such as turkey, ham, chicken and vegetable or pasta salads, ahead of time to allow for thorough chilling in the refrigerator. Divide large amounts of food into shallow containers for fast chilling and easier use. Keep cooked food refrigerated until time to leave home.
To keep lunches cold away from home, include a small frozen gel pack or frozen juice box. Of course, if there’s a refrigerator available, store perishable items there upon arrival.
Some food is safe without a cold source. Items that don’t require refrigeration include fruits, vegetables, hard cheese, canned meat and fish, chips, breads, crackers, peanut jelly, mustard and pickles.
Use an insulated container to keep food like soup, chilli and stew hot. Fill the container with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, empty, and then put in the piping hot food. Keep the insulated container closed until lunchtime to keep the food hot - 140°F or above.
When using the microwave oven to reheat lunches, cover food to hold in moisture and promote safe, even heating. Reheat leftovers to at least 165°F (73.89°C). Food should be steaming hot. Cook frozen convenience meals according to package instructions.
Listeria monocytogenes is found in soil and water. Vegetables can become contaminated from the soil or from manure used as fertilizer. Animals can carry the bacteria without appearing ill and can contaminate foods of animal origin such as meats and dairy products. The bacteria can be found in a variety of raw foods, such as uncooked meats and vegetables, as well as in processed foods that become contaminated after processing, such as soft cheeses and cold cuts at the deli counter. Unpasteurized (raw) milk or foods made from unpasteurized milk may contain the bacteria.
Symptoms vary and depend on the individual susceptibility, but may include fever, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Listeria monocytogenes is a bacterium that can cause a serious infection in humans called listeriosis that results in an estimated 2,500 serious illnesses and 500 deaths each year in the US. Foodborne illness caused by L. monocytogenes in pregnant women can result in miscarriage, fetal death, and severe illness or death of a newborn infant. Others at risk for severe illness or death are older adults and those with weakened immune systems.
Because L. monocytogenes can grow at refrigerator temperatures and is found in ready-to-eat foods, the food authorities is advising all consumers to reduce the risk of illness by:
Using perishable items that are precooked or ready-to-eat as soon as possible;
Cleaning their refrigerator regularly; and
Using a refrigerator thermometer to make sure that the refrigerator always stays at 40°F (4.4°C) or below.
Since pregnant women, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk for listeriosis, FDA is providing the following advice to those at-risk consumers of foods that have a greater likelihood of containing Listeria monocytogenes:
Do not eat hot dogs and luncheon meats, unless they are reheated until steaming hot.
Do not eat soft cheese such as Feta, Brie, and Camembert Cheeses, blue-veined cheeses, and Mexican-style cheeses such as “queso blanco fresco”.
Cheeses that may be eaten include hard cheese; semi-soft cheeses such as mozzarella; pasteurized processed cheeses such as slices and spreads; cream cheese; and cottage cheese.
Do not eat refrigerated pates or meat spreads. Canned or shelf-stable pates and meat spreads may be eaten.
Do not eat refrigerated smoked seafood, unless it is contained in a cooked dish, such as a casserole. Refrigerated smoked seafood, such as salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna or mackerel, is most often labeled as “nova-style”, “lox”, “kippered”, “smoked” or “jerky”. The fish is found in the refrigerator section or sold at deli counters of grocery stores and delicatessens. Canned or shelf-stable smoked seafood may be eaten.
Do not drink raw (unpasteurized) milk or eat foods that contain unpasteurized milk.
To keep food safe from harmful bacteria, follow these four simple steps:
Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often
Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate
Cook: Cook to proper temperatures
Chill: Refrigerate promptly
Cutting boards can harbor bacteria in cracks and grooves caused by knives. But with little effort, plastic, a hard wood, such as maple, or any nonporous surface can be used safely if used properly. Here’s how:
REMEMBER: Always clean and sanitize your board after using it for raw meat, poultry and seafood and before using it for ready-to-eat foods.
To avoid the possibility of Foodborne illness, fresh eggs must be handled carefully. Evens eggs with clean, uncracked shells may occasionally contain bacteria called Salmonella that can cause an intestinal infection. The most effective way to prevent egg-related illness is by knowing how to buy, store, and handle and cook eggs – or foods that contain them – safely. That is why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires all cartons of shell eggs that have not been treated to destroy Salmonella must carry the following safe handling statement:
Safe Handling Instructions: To prevent illness from bacteria: keeps eggs refrigerated, cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly.
Following these instructions is important for everyone but especially for those most vulnerable to Foodborne disease – children, the elderly, and person with weakened immune systems due to steroid use, conditions such as AIDS, cancer or diabetes, or such treatments as chemotherapy for cancer or immune suppression because of organ transplants.
Eggs that have been treated to destroy Salmonella – by in-shell pasteurization, for example – are not required to carry safe handling instructions.
Buy eggs only if sold from a refrigerated case.
Open the carton and make sure that the eggs are clean and the shells are not cracked.
Store eggs in their original carton and use them within 3 weeks for best quality.
Before preparing any food, remember that cleanliness is the key!
Wash hands, utensils, equipment, and work surfaces with hot, soapy water before and after they come in contact with eggs and egg-containing foods.
Thorough cooking is perhaps the most important step in making sure eggs are safe.
Cook eggs until both the yolk and the white are firm. Scrambled eggs should not be runny.
Casseroles and other dishes containing eggs should be cooked to 160°F (72°C). Use a food thermometer to be use.
For recipes that call for eggs that are raw or undercooked when the dish is served – Caesar Salad dressing and homemade ice cream are two examples – use either shells eggs that have been treated to destroy Salmonella, by pasteurization or another approved method, or pasteurized egg products. Treated shell eggs are available from a growing number of retailers and are clearly labeled, while pasteurized egg products are widely available.
Bacteria can multiply in temperatures form 40°F (5°) to 140°F (60°C), so it’s very important to serve foods safely.
Serve cooked eggs and egg containing foods immediately after cooking.
For buffet style serving, hot eggs should be kept hot, and cold dishes kept cold.
Eggs and egg dishes, such as quiches or soufflés, may be refrigerated for serving later but should be thoroughly reheated to 165°F (74°C) before serving.
Cooked eggs, including hard boiled eggs, and egg containing foods should not sit out for more than 2 hours. Within 2 hours either reheat or refrigerate.
Use hard-cooked eggs (in the shell or peeled) within 1 week after cooking.
Use frozen eggs within one year. Eggs should not be frozen in their shells. To freeze whole eggs, beat yolks and whites together. Egg whites can also be frozen by themselves.
Refrigerate leftover cooked egg dishes and use within 3-4days. When refrigerating a large amount of a hot egg-containing leftover, divide it into several shallow containers so it will cool quickly.
Cooked eggs for a picnic should be packed in an insulated cooler with enough ice or frozen gel packs to keep them cold.
Don’t put the cooler in the trunk – carry it in the air-conditioned passenger compartment of the car.
If taking cooked eggs to work or school, pack them with a small frozen gel pack or a frozen juice box.
Generally, seafood is very safe to eat, but raw or undercooked seafood can be unsafe.
Seafood grown or collected from contaminated water can get colonized by viruses in the water. Shellfish foods, such as oysters, pump a lot of water through their bodies each day and filter our micro-organisms. Thus, they are very likely to collect viruses from the water. Some oysters, for example, are eaten raw or lightly cooked, which increases the risk of Foodborne illness. And viruses are not the only culprits. Bacteria and parasites are threats to raw seafood, as well. To keep seafood safe:
Buy only fresh seafood that is refrigerated or properly iced.
Always cook fish thoroughly. Cooking fish until it’s opaque and flaky helps destroy any existing pathogenic bacteria that may be present.
All consumers should avoid eating raw oysters or shellfish. People with liver disorders or weakened immune systems are especially at risk for getting sick.