- Studies have cited that the kitchen is more heavily contaminated with fecal bacteria than bathrooms.
- Food in the refrigerator that is packed too tightly, restricting air circulation, prohibits proper food temperatures.
- Microwave ovens are another site of cross contamination risk due to consumers not cleaning regularly.
- Young children, the elderly, the immunocompromised and pregnant women are most at risk of foodborne illnesses.
Tis The Season To Be ?
The holidays are known for the time to connect with extended family. This connection usually involves food preparation, food handling and food consumption in both home and retail kitchens.
Many consumers are unaware of their susceptibility to foodborne illnesses in their kitchens at home and at work.
Many foodborne illness cases may be the result of preventable food handling mistakes in the kitchen. Consumers oftentimes fail to make the connection between their family member’s “flu-like” symptoms associated with foodborne illnesses caused by foods prepared at home.
There is a high likelihood for opportunities for food handling errors to occur at home since the greatest portion of the food we eat is prepared at home.
Food prepared in consumer homes may also be served to a wider community- bake sales, church dinners, school picnics, school and work cafeterias and farm market stands.
Clean, Sanitize, Repeat
Home kitchen sinks are oftentimes used in a multipurpose fashion for hand washing, produce washing, dish washing, soaking clothes, washing children and pets, and wetting mops.
Dirty dishes are stacked alongside clean dishes on kitchen counters. Raw unwashed vegetables, dripping raw meat, as well as cooked ready to eat foods are common in home refrigerators.
Some studies have cited that the kitchen is more heavily contaminated with fecal bacteria than bathrooms.
Given how often the most heavily contaminated areas in the kitchen (ie., refrigerator handles, tea kettle handles, tap handles, sink drain areas, dish cloths and sponges) are touched during meal preparation, it is likely that hands are not washed frequently enough to prevent the transfer of pathogens to ready to eat food, food packaging, or equipment, and contact surfaces used to prepare food.
Kitchen utensils and cutting boards are also key cross contamination routes.
Reusable grocery bags, doubling as gym bags, toy bags, and other uses can pose a significant risk of bacterial cross contamination.
Since meat, poultry and seafood are the leading causes of foodborne illnesses, it is essential to properly separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from ready to eat foods such as salads and cooked meat.
Is Your Refrigerator Running…
Proper cooling temperature for refrigerators is another important food safety issue. Many refrigerators are not cool enough (40 degrees F). Compounding the cooling problem is food packed so tightly that air circulation is restricted. Tight packing increases food to food cross contamination risk.
The area most needing improvement in kitchens is heating foods, such as meat and poultry, to a temperature sufficiently high enough to kill harmful pathogens. Validating the accuracy of the cooking temperature (ie, ground beef 160 degrees F) should be routinely monitored with a thermometer.
Many recipes and cooking shows seldom give endpoint temperatures. Instead they recommend color as an indicator of meat and poultry being fully cooked.
Microwave ovens are another site of cross contamination risk since many consumers do not clean them regularly.
Consumers of all ages make significant mistakes when it comes to handling food safely, especially affecting those at increased risk for severely adverse outcomes from foodborne illnesses (ie, young children, the elderly, the immunocompromised, and pregnant women).
Healthy Habits At Home
Many agencies including the CDC, FDA, USDA and other non profit food safety organizations have been devoted to improving the safety of the food supply, but these efforts are in vain if not matched by safe food handling at home.
The high rate and cost of foodborne illnesses highlights the need for health professionals to develop and implement more effective food safety educational programs that hopefully will result in safer food handling practices of consumers at all ages.
Dr. Gary Russotti MD, MS
Idea Boxx – Director of Medical/Biochemical R&D and Regulatory Compliance
Summarized from: Byrd-Bredbenner, C. et al. “Food Safety in Home Kitchens: A Synthesis of the Literature”. Int.J.Envir. Res.Public Health. 2013, 10: 40