What comes to mind when you think of a clean kitchen? Shiny waxed
floors? Gleaming stainless steel sinks? Spotless counters and neatly
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 food handler.
1. The temperature of the
refrigerator in my home is:
a. 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees
b. 40 F (5 C)
c. I don't know; I've never measured
2. The last time we had
leftover cooked stew or other food
with meat, chicken or fish, the food
a. cooled to room temperature, then
put in the refrigerator
b. put in the refrigerator immediately
after the food was served
c. left at room temperature overnight
3. 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
4. If a cutting board is
used in my home to cut raw meat,
poultry or fish and it is going to
be used to chop another food, the
a. reused as is
b. wiped with a damp cloth
c. washed with soap and hot water
d. washed with soap and hot water
and then sanitized
5. The last time we had
hamburgers in my home, I ate mine:
a. rare (140 F)
b. medium (160 F)
c. well-done (170 F)
6. The last time there was
cookie dough in my home, the dough
a. made with raw eggs, and I sampled
some of it
b. made with raw eggs and refrigerated,
then I sampled some of it
c. store-bought, and I sampled some
d. not sampled until baked
7. I clean my kitchen counters
and other surfaces that come in contact
with food with:
b. hot water and soap
c. hot water and soap, then bleach
d. hot water and soap, then commercial
8. When dishes are washed
in my home, they are:
a. washed and dried in an automatic
b. left to soak in the sink for several
hours and then washed with soap in
the same water
c. washed right away with hot water
and soap in the sink and then air-dried
d. washed right away with hot water
and soap in the sink and immediately
9. The last time I handled
raw meat, poultry or fish, I cleaned
my hands afterwards by:
a. wiping them on a towel
b. rinsing them under hot, cold or
warm tap water
c. washing with soap and warm water
10. Meat, poultry and fish
products are defrosted in my home
a. setting them on the counter
b. placing them in the refrigerator
11. When I buy fresh seafood,
a. buy only fish that's refrigerated
or well iced
b. take it home immediately and put
it in the refrigerator
c. sometimes buy it straight out
of a local fisher's creel
12. I realize people, including
myself, should be especially careful
about not eating raw seafood, if
b. HIV infection
d. liver disease
1. Refrigerators should
stay at 40 F (5 C) or less, so if
you chose answer B, give yourself
two points. If you didn't,
you're not alone. According to Robert
Buchanan, Ph.D., senior science adviser
and director of science in the Food
and Drug Administration's Center
for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition,
many people overlook the importance
of maintaining an appropriate refrigerator
"According to surveys, in many households, the refrigerator temperature is above 50 degrees (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 40 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.
Freezing at zero F (minus 18 C) or less stops bacterial growth (although it won't kill 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, says FDA microbiologist Kelly Bunning, Ph.D., associate
senior science adviser in CFSAN: "It's not worth a foodborne 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 John Guzewich, CFSAN's director of emergency
coordination and response, 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, along with the moistness, create an ideal environment for
4. If answer D best describes
your household's practice, give yourself
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 not do the job, either.
To prevent cross-contamination from a cutting board, the FDA advises consumers to follow these practices:
Use smooth cutting boards made
of hard maple or a non-porous material
such as plastic and free of cracks
and crevices. These kinds of boards
can be cleaned easily. Avoid boards
made of soft, porous materials.
Wash cutting boards with hot
water, soap, and a scrub brush
to remove food particles. Then
sanitize the boards by putting
them through the automatic dishwasher
or rinsing them in a solution of
1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) of chlorine
bleach in 1 quart (about 1 liter)
Always wash and sanitize cutting
boards after using them for raw
foods and before using them for
ready-to-eat foods. Consider using
one cutting board only for foods
that will be cooked, such as raw
fish, and another only for ready-to-eat
foods, such as bread, fresh fruit,
and cooked fish. Disposable cutting
boards are a newer option, and
can be found in grocery and discount
5. Give yourself two points
if you picked answer B or C.
Ground beef must be cooked to an internal temperature of 160
degrees Fahrenheit (71 degrees Celsius). Using a digital or dial food
thermometer is crucial, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says,
because research results indicate that some ground meat may prematurely
brown before a safe internal temperature has been reached. On the other
hand, research findings also show that some ground meat patties cooked
to 160 F or above may remain pink inside for a number of reasons; thus
the color of meat alone is not considered a reliable indicator of
ground beef safety. If eating out, order your ground beef to be cooked
well-done. Temperatures for other foods to reach to be safe include:
beef, lamb and veal--145 F (63
pork and ground beef--160 F
whole poultry and thighs--180
F (82 C)
poultry breasts--170 F (77 C)
ground chicken or ground turkey--165
F (74 C).
Seafood should be thoroughly cooked to an internal temperature of
at least 145 F (63 C). Fish that's ground or flaked, such as a fish
cake, should be cooked to at least 155 F (68 C), and stuffed fish to at
least 165 F (74 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
For shrimp, lobster and scallops,
check color. Shrimp and lobster
turn 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 recommended 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 or
B, you may be putting yourself at
risk for infection with
Enteritidis, a bacterium that
can be inside shell eggs.
Cooking the egg or egg-containing
food product to an internal temperature
of at least 160 F (71 C) kills the
bacteria. Refrigerating will not
kill the bacteria. So answer D--eating
the baked product--will earn you
Other foods containing raw eggs, such as homemade ice cream, cake
batter, mayonnaise, and eggnog, carry a Salmonella risk too. Their
commercial counterparts are usually 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. But the best
practice, even when using products containing pasteurized eggs, is to
eat the foods only as they are intended to be eaten, so answer C,
sampling the unbaked store-bought cookie dough, will not earn you any
Consider using pasteurized eggs for homemade recipes that do not
include a cooking step, such as eggnog or Caesar salad dressing.
Pasteurized eggs are usually sold in the grocer's refrigerated dairy
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
Guzewich, 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 alone may get rid of visible
dirt, but not bacteria.
Also, be sure to keep dishcloths clean because, when wet, they can 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 says. "The food left
on the dish contributes nutrients
for bacteria, so the bacteria will
multiply." When washing dishes by
hand, he says, 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.
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 a water-tight plastic bag submerged
in cold water and changing the water
every 30 minutes. Gradual defrosting
overnight in the refrigerator is
best because it helps maintain quality.
When microwaving, follow package directions. 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
Similarly, 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 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
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 freezer. 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 a 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
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
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
People with certain diseases and conditions need to be especially
careful because their diseases or the medicines 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
hemochromatosis, an iron disorder
stomach problems, including
previous stomach surgery and low
stomach acid (for example, from
immune disorders, including
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 diseases or conditions should never eat raw seafood--only seafood that has been thoroughly cooked.
Rating Your Home's Food Practices
24 points: Feel confident
about the safe food practices you
follow in your home.
12 to 23 points: Reexamine
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 foodborne
Other Kitchen Contaminants
Lead leached from some types of
ceramic dinnerware into foods and
beverages is often consumers' biggest
source of dietary lead, says John
Jones, Ph.D., in the FDA's Center
for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
(See "Lead Threat Lessens, But Mugs
Pose Problem" in the April 1993 FDA
"An Unwanted Souvenir: Lead in Ceramic
Ware" in the December 1989-January
1990 FDA Consumer.)
Here are some tips to reduce your
Don't store acidic foods, such
as fruit juices, in ceramic containers.
Avoid or limit to special occasions
the use of antique or collectible
housewares for food and beverages.
Follow label directions on ornamental
ceramic products labeled "Not for
Food Use--May Poison Food" or "For
Decorative Purposes Only," and
don't use these items for preparing
or storing food.
Also, don't store beverages in lead crystal containers for extended periods.
High temperature use of some microwave
food packaging material may cause
packaging components, such as paper,
adhesives and polymers, to migrate
into food at excessive levels. For
that reason, choose only microwave-safe
cooking containers. Never use packaging
cartons for cooking unless the package
directs you to do so. (See "Keeping
Up with the Microwave Revolution"
in the March 1990 FDA Consumer.)
According to the FDA's Jones, there has been speculation linking
aluminum to Alzheimer's disease. The link has never been proved, he
said, but if consumers are concerned, they should avoid cooking acidic
foods, such as tomato sauce, in aluminum pans. For other uses,
well-maintained aluminum pans--as well as stainless steel, copper and
iron pots and pans--present no apparent hazards.
Insects, Rodents and Dirt
Avoid storing food in cabinets
that are under the sink or have
water, drain and heating pipes
passing through them. Food stored
here can attract insects and rodents
through openings that are difficult
to seal adequately.
Wash the tops of cans with soap
and water before opening.
Home-Based Foodborne Illness
When several members of a household come down with sudden, severe
diarrhea and vomiting, intestinal flu is often considered the likely
culprit. But food poisoning may be another consideration.
A true diagnosis is often never made because the ill people recover without having to see a doctor.
Health experts believe this is a common situation in households
across the country, and because a doctor is often not seen for this
kind of illness, the incidence of foodborne illness is not really known.
An estimated 76 million cases of foodborne disease occur each year
in the United States. The great majority of these cases are mild and
cause symptoms for only a day or two. Some cases are more serious, and
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are
325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths related to foodborne diseases
each year. The most severe cases tend to occur in the very old, the
very young, those who have an illness already that reduces their immune
system function, and in healthy people exposed to a very high dose of
Cases of home-based foodborne illness may become a bigger problem,
some food safety experts say, partly because today's busy family may
not be as familiar with food safety issues as more home-focused
families of past generations.
The increased use of convenience foods, which often are preserved
with special chemicals and processes, also complicates today's home
food safety practices, says Robert Buchanan, Ph.D., senior science
advisor and director of science in the FDA's Center for Food Safety and
Applied Nutrition. These foods, such as TV dinners, which are specially
preserved, give consumers a false idea that equivalent home-cooked
foods are equally safe, he says.
To curb the problem, food safety
experts recommend food safety education
emphasizing the principles of HACCP
(Hazard Analysis and Critical Control
Point), a new food safety procedure
that many food companies are now
incorporating into their manufacturing
processes. Unlike past practices,
HACCP focuses on preventing foodborne
hazards, such as microbial contamination,
by identifying points at which hazards
can be introduced into the food and
then controlling and monitoring these
potential problem areas. (See
"HACCP: Patrolling for Food Hazards"
in the January-February 1995 FDA
"It's mainly taking a common-sense approach towards food safety in
the home," says Buchanan. "Basically, consumers need to make sure
they're not defeating the system by contaminating the product."
Food Information Line
Recorded messages 24 hours a day,
every day. FDA public affairs specialists
available 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern
time, Monday through Friday.
USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline
Recorded messages in English and
Spanish available 24 hours a day.
Home economists and registered dietitians
available 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern
time, Monday through Friday.
A gateway website that provides links
to selected government food safety-related
Also check with:
your supermarket or its consumer
your local county extension
local health departments
Publication No. (FDA) 02-1229