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 solution
d. hot water and soap, then commercial sanitizing agent
8. When dishes are washed in my home, they are:
a. washed and dried in an automatic dishwasher
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
d. washed right away with hot water and soap in the sink and
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, I:
a. buy only fish that's refrigerated or well
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 they have:
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 temperature.
"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
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 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 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 bacterial
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 not do the
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) of
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 chain stores.
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 (71
whole poultry and thighs--180 F
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 cooking.
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
6. If you answered A or B, you may be putting yourself at risk
for infection with Salmonella 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 points.
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 case.
Some other tips to ensure egg safety:
Buy only refrigerated eggs, and
keep them refrigerated until you are ready to cook and serve
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
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 temperature.
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
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
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
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 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 other causes
hemochromatosis, an iron
stomach problems, including
previous stomach surgery and low stomach acid (for example,
from antacid use)
immune disorders, including HIV
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 illness.
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 Consumer and "An
Unwanted Souvenir: Lead in Ceramic Ware" in the December
1989-January 1990 FDA Consumer.) Here are some tips to reduce
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
Wash the tops of cans with soap
and water before opening.
Home-Based Food borne 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
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 food borne
illness is not really known.
An estimated 76 million cases of food borne 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 food borne 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 an organism.
Cases of home-based food borne 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 Consumer.)
"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
FDA's 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 information.
Also check with:
* your supermarket or its consumer affairs department
* your local county extension home economist
* local health departments
* food manufacturers
Publication No. (FDA) 02-1229