Does your kitchen meet health standards?
Probably not, according to a study that looked at the kitchens in 100 homes in the Philadelphia area and found at least one “critical code violation” in every single one.
Jennifer Quinlan, lead author of the study that was published in Food Protection Trends, found that raw meat was improperly stored in 97 per cent of homes where it was present, and that nearly half of the kitchens had at least one foodborne disease-causing organism, like E-coli or Listeria.
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And since food-handling is the “the final defence against foodborne illness,” it’s extra important to make sure you’re not making these errors, the study said.
Dirty sponges or dishcloths
People should clean their sponges or dishcloths just as they would their counters at the end of the day, or in the evening.
“It’s got moisture, it’s at room temperature, it’s probably got food particles… so it’s a perfect place for bacteria to multiply,” Quinlan said of a sponge.
Solution: Throw your sponge in the microwave or dishwasher each night to kill off bacteria. Or, as Quinlan put it: “Make sure you’re killing anything that might be on it from your food preparation.”
Meat or poultry stored above other foods
Raw meat was found above ready-to-eat foods in 97 per cent of homes, the study showed. And that’s an issue because juices from the meat could leak down onto the food below before it’s consumed.
Solution: Keep your meat on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator.
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High refrigerator temperatures
Your fridge temperature should be kept at 4 C (or 40 F in the U.S.). But Quinlan found that 43 per cent of homes had a fridge temperature higher than 41 F.
And that could cause bacteria like Listeria to grow.
“Every degree that your refrigerator is above that 40 degrees, the bacteria is going to grow faster,” Quinlan explains.
Along with a food safety issue, she said a colder temperature will also help your food last longer.
Solution: Get a fridge thermometer to measure the temperature.
Pets allowed on food preparation surfaces
Having pets “in food preparation areas may increase the likelihood of fecal-oral contamination,” the study explained.
Yet in 44 per cent of homes, an animal was present in the kitchen at the time of inspection.
Solution: The bottom line is to “Keep your pets off food surfaces,” Quinlan stressed.
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No access to disinfectants or paper towels
Most homes had adequate dish soap, disinfectants and towels, but that wasn’t the case in a significant number of lower-income homes.
“If you don’t have money for food, things like paper towel, disinfectant seems like a luxury,” Quinlan said.
“But the reality is this population is not only at great risk for foodborne illnesses, but has a greater risk for any infectious disease because they don’t have the sanitation materials.”
Solution: This one’s harder to pin down. The obvious issue is to tell people to have disinfectant and towels handy, but as Quinlan writes in her study: “Outreach programs that provide financial assistance or increase access to items necessary for proper sanitation may be more beneficial than educational materials to these vulnerable populations.”