Would Your Kitchen Make the Grade?

January 10, 2011

Have you ever wondered what grade your kitchen would receive if you were to be visited by a restaurant inspector at home? A recent survey suggests home cooks have a lot to learn regarding food safety.

A handful of cities across the country have grading systems for restaurants based on food safety health inspections, and post the grades in plane view in the front window. Have you ever wondered what grade your kitchen would receive if you were to be visited by a restaurant inspector at home?

A study recently published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, evaluated home food-handling and preparation practices of 13,000 Los Angeles County adults. After taking an online survey type quiz similar to the one used to grade restaurants, only 61 percent of home cooks received scores equal to an A or a B, compared to 98 percent of restaurants in LA. Twenty-five percent scored a C, and the remaining14 percent received a failing grade.

The study’s results might be a little biased, according to researchers who think that those who agreed to take the quiz are more likely interested in and aware of food safety, thus the results may underestimate the actual issue.

According to the CDC’s latest estimates, foodborne illnesses affect 48 million Americans, leading to 180,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths. Health officials suspect this number is much greater as most foodborne illnesses go unreported.

Safe food handling is critical in homes with small children, older adults, and those with compromised immune systems – who are generally at greater risk of getting sick from contaminated food. Food safety at home involves many factors - from how we handle and store food to cleanliness and expiration dates.

SupermarketGuru’s tips for keeping your home kitchen clean and your family foodborne illness free!

After loading the food into the car at the grocery store, take groceries straight home to the refrigerator – try not to run errands, especially on hot summer days.

Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared foods and leftovers within two hours.

Never defrost or marinate food at room temperature. Use the refrigerator. You can also thaw foods in airtight packaging in cold water (change the water every 30 minutes, so the food continues to thaw). Or, thaw in the microwave if you’ll be cooking the food immediately.

Divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers for quick cooling in the refrigerator.

Don’t over-stuff the refrigerator. Cold air must circulate to keep food safe.

Use an appliance thermometer to make sure your refrigerator is running at 40 degrees or below and that the freezer is at 0 degrees or below.

Place packages of raw meat, poultry or fish on a plate in the refrigerator so their juices won't drip on other foods. Freeze fresh meat, poultry or fish if you will not be using it within a few days of purchasing.

After working with raw meat and chicken, always wash your hands, knife, cutting boards and any other contaminated surfaces in hot, soapy water.

Remember that bacteria can live in kitchen towels and sponges. Be sure to wash towels often and replace sponges every few weeks.

When cooking meat, use a thermometer to check that it is cooked to the proper temperature: hamburgers and ground beef - 160 degrees; ground poultry - 165 degrees; cuts of beef, veal and lamb - 145 degrees; fresh pork - 160 degrees; and whole poultry - 180 degrees in the thigh and 170 degrees in the breast.

The L.A. County Department of Public Health launched the Home Kitchen Self-Inspection Program, that can be used to gauge your food safety practices.