Is Your Kitchen Making You Sick?

Friday, July 30th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

No matter how spotless it looks, your kitchen could be making you or your family sick. Find out if you're serving up something more than you really want.

Each year an estimated 80 million Americans suffer from foodborne illness, more commonly called food poisoning. While eating bacteria-contaminated or undercooked meat and poultry is a common way of getting foodborne illness, another culprit is food handling and cross-contamination. It's estimated that half of all salmonella cases result from unsafe handling of food in the home. Consumers need to take on part of the responsibility to prevent foodborne illness, which costs the United States $23 billion annually.

Every meal you prepare in your kitchen has the possibility of making you and your family sick due to bacteria. You may have to go back to the basics on eliminating bacteria. If you could take a look around your kitchen with a microscope, you would probably find tiny microorganisms ready to spread. Food and safety expert Carol Mitchell recommends you may need to lower the temperature of your refrigerator to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. You want to keep your food out of the "temperature danger zone" which is between 40 and and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

Food preparation can also make people sick. Before you handle any food, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly. Use paper towels instead of a hand towel to dry your hands. Paper towels are best to use since no one else has touched the towels before you. In the preparation of food, always use separate cutting boards and knives for meats and vegetables. "The chicken becomes OK to eat after cooking, but the salad should be considered raw and still has microorganisms in it," says Mitchell. Do you make chocolate chip cookies and let everyone lick the bowl? Those raw eggs are bad for you, too. Mitchell advises if you insist on sharing the raw cookie batter with your family, use pasteurized eggs in your recipe.

Symptoms of foodborne illnesses are stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea, chills, fever and headaches. Your cooking area may be clean. But if you're using a sponge to wipe down the counter tops, make sure you change out the old one every two weeks. The problem there is those microorganisms could thrive in that sponge.

Pay attention to what you serve and how you serve it. If you do, you'll dim the chances of sickness in your family. When you buy antibacterial products, look for products whose label states they are Environmental Protection Agency registered disinfectants. These disinfectants kill bacteria.

Here's some simple safety tips.

At the Store:
Shop at only reputable stores.
Make sure you check expiration dates.
Do not allow raw meat or poultry juice to drip on your other groceries,
Buy perishables last and keep then in the coolest part of your car.

Preparing Food:
Thaw frozen food by defrosting it in the refrigerator, not on the kitchen counter.
Wash surfaces, utensils and cooking equipment after any contact with raw meat, eggs, poultry or seafood to reduce cross-contamination.

Cooking with Care:
Check that food is thoroughly cooked in several places by using a thermometer.
Red meat is done when brown and juices are no longer pink.
Poultry is done when juices run clear.

Safe Serving:
Do not reuse dishes and utensils used during food preparation.
Serve grilled food on a clean plate not the one that held the raw meat, poultry or fish.
Do not leave perishables out for more than two hours.