Special Report: Hidden hazards in your kitchen

Posted by: Melissa McKinney - bio | email

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - An estimated 76 million cases of food borne disease occur each year in the United States--illnesses like Salmonella, E. Coli, and Botulism.

And they can come from your own kitchen caused by hidden hazards you may not even know are there, and habits you may not think twice about.

Lauren Lerner is taking her trade from restaurant to residence.

She's an inspector with the Alabama Department of Public Health and rates restaurants--making sure they prepare safe meals for your family.

"Part of our job is being as nosey as we can be," says Lerner.

But if she came to your kitchen...would it make the grade?

"I'm gonna use a score sheet, a blank score sheet that we would normally use in rating restaurants, commercial kitchens," says Lerner.

Tracy Williford and Shirley Nance gave it a shot. They learned some everyday habits could make them sick.

We start in Williford's refrigerator.

"So what I'll be looking at here in the refrigerator is of course, dates.  I've noticed that you got milk and egg products. I don't really see anything."

But in the freezer?

"I see you got cold packs here," says Lerner.

"Those are actually for my husband's back. Hahahaha!" says Williford.

In the utensil drawer, Lerner finds a broken spatula, some roughed up rubber ones, and a melted plastic spoon.

"It's just things people don't think about," says Lerner.

But broken and chipped utensils, "they're just hard to sanitize when they get like that," says Lerner.

Lerner says there is also something you might never expect could make you sick.

"You're going to contaminate with whatever's on the outside of that."

"The can opener...I just had no idea that it would be harboring germs and bacteria," says Williford.

Now for the checklist.

"I would have to come back to make sure you complied with our rules," says Lerner.

Williford gets an 87.

"Ooooh, that's real bad," says Williford.

But Lerner says, "she had a pretty nice kitchen, until we started digging that we found just a few things that needed to be corrected or she needed to be more mindful about in the future. "

In Shirley's refrigerator, Lerner tests the milk temperature.

"It should be 41. But one degree give or take...that's not bad."

What about eggs sitting in a slanted shelf?

"If for some reason one of your eggs were cracked or broken...we don't want it leaking down onto what we consider the ready to eat foods," says Lerner.

She also finds prescription medicine in the fridge.

"You don't know where the bag has been. You don't know where the box has been. You don't know how many people have touched it. And now you're sticking it right up here next to your butter and sour cream."

A safe bet is to keep it away from food.

"Ya know, you just don't think of that," says Nance.

"This is another issue that we run into quite often."

Lauren finds containers with sticky paper residue.

"A lot of times, labels don't come off. And in this case, they're hard to properly sanitize."

She also finds some disposable tin pans.

"That's kind-of a no-no.  Where they bend down in those crevices, you know bacteria can get...they're only meant for a one-time use."

After the inspection, it's time to tally-up.

"We got you at an 82.  Would you eat at a restaurant with an 82?" asks Lerner.

"I probably wouldn't," says Nance.

Lerner's goal...accomplished.

Williford and Nance aren't taking any chances.

"You can see me throwing it right in the trash...and it's gone...goodbye," says Nance as she throws away plastic containers and tin foil pans.

Williford throws away her broken spatula. "This guy's going in the trash."

For a look at the Alabama Department of Public Health score sheet Lerner used, visit this link:

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