1. Refrigerators should stay at 40 degrees F or less, so the answer is B.
If you didn't, you're not alone. According to Robert Buchanan, Ph.D., food safety initiative lead scientist in the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, many people overlook the importance of maintaining an appropriate refrigerator temperature.
"According to surveys, in many households, the refrigerator temperature is above 50 degrees (10 C)," he said. His advice: Measure the temperature with a thermometer and, if needed, adjust the refrigerator's temperature control dial.
A temperature of 40 degrees F or less is important because it slows the growth of most bacteria. The temperature won't kill the bacteria, but it will keep them from multiplying, and the fewer there are, the less likely you are to get sick from them. Freezing at zero F (minus 18 C) or less stops bacterial growth (although it won't kill all bacteria already present).
2. Answer B is the best practice.
Hot foods should be refrigerated as soon as possible within two hours after cooking. But don't keep the food if it's been standing out for more than two hours. Don't taste test it, either. Even a small amount of contaminated food can cause illness.
Date leftovers so they can be used within a safe time. Generally, they remain safe when refrigerated for three to five days. If in doubt, throw it out, said FDA microbiologist Kelly Bunning, Ph.D., also with FDA's food safety initiative. "It's not worth a food-borne illness for the small amount of food usually involved."
3. If answer A best describes your household's practice, your doing things properly..
According to FDA's John Guzewich epidemiologist on FDA's food safety initiative team, the kitchen sink drain, disposal and connecting pipe are often overlooked, but they should be sanitized periodically by pouring down the sink a solution of 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) of chlorine bleach in 1 quart (about 1 liter) of water or a solution of commercial kitchen cleaning agent made according to product directions. Food particles get trapped in the drain and disposal and, along with the moistness, create an ideal environment for bacterial growth.
4. If answer C best describes your household's practice, you are correct.
If you picked A, you're violating an important food safety rule: Never allow raw meat, poultry and fish to come in contact with other foods. Answer B isn't good, either. Improper washing, such as with a damp cloth, will not remove bacteria. And washing only with soap and water may not do the job, either.
5. Answer C is the best answer.
If you don't have a meat thermometer, there are other ways to determine whether seafood is done:
- For fish, slip the point of a sharp knife into the flesh and pull aside. The edges should be opaque and the center slightly translucent with flakes beginning to separate. Let the fish stand three to four minutes to finish cooking.
- For shrimp, lobster and scallops, check color. Shrimp and lobster and scallops, red and the flesh becomes pearly opaque. Scallops turn milky white or opaque and firm.
- For clams, mussels and oysters, watch for the point at which their shells open. Boil three to five minutes longer. Throw out those that stay closed.
When using the microwave, rotate the dish several times to ensure even cooking. Follow recommended standing times. After the standing time is completed, check the seafood in several spots with a meat thermometer to be sure the product has reached the proper temperature.
If you want to sample homemade dough or batter or eat other foods with raw-egg-containing products, consider substituting pasteurized eggs for raw eggs. Pasteurized eggs are usually sold in the grocer's refrigerated dairy case.
Some other tips to ensure egg safety:
- Buy only refrigerated eggs, and keep them refrigerated until you are ready to cook and serve them.
- Cook eggs thoroughly until both the yolk and white are firm, not runny, and scramble until there is no visible liquid egg.
- Cook pasta dishes and stuffings that contain eggs thoroughly.
7. Answers C is your best answer. According to FDA's Guzewich, bleach and commercial kitchen cleaning agents are the best sanitizers--provided they're diluted according to product directions. They're the most effective at getting rid of bacteria. Hot water and soap does a good job, too, but may not kill all strains of bacteria. Water may get rid of visible dirt, but not bacteria.
Also, be sure to keep dishcloths and sponges clean because, when wet, these materials harbor bacteria and may promote their growth.
8. Answers A is the best answer but answer C is definitely o.k. also. There are potential problems with answer B. When you let dishes sit in water for a long time, it "creates a soup," FDA's Buchanan said. "The food left on the dish contributes nutrients for bacteria, so the bacteria will multiply." When washing dishes by hand, he said, it's best to wash them all within two hours. Also, it's best to air-dry them so you don't handle them while they're wet.
9. The only correct practice is answer C.
Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food, especially raw meat, poultry and fish. If you have an infection or cut on your hands, wear rubber or plastic gloves. Wash gloved hands just as often as bare hands because the gloves can pick up bacteria. (However, when washing gloved hands, you don't need to take off your gloves and wash your bare hands, too.)
10. The best answer here is answer B. Answer C is acceptable however. Food safety experts recommend thawing foods in the refrigerator or the microwave oven or putting the package in a water-tight plastic bag submerged in cold water and changing the water every 30 minutes. Gradual defrosting overnight is best because it helps maintain quality.
When microwaving, follow package directions. Leave about 2 inches (about 5 centimeters) between the food and the inside surface of the microwave to allow heat to circulate. Smaller items will defrost more evenly than larger pieces of food. Foods defrosted in the microwave oven should be cooked immediately after thawing.
Do not thaw meat, poultry and fish products on the counter or in the sink without cold water; bacteria can multiply rapidly at room temperature.
Marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Discard the marinade after use because it contains raw juices, which may harbor bacteria. If you want to use the marinade as a dip or sauce, reserve a portion before adding raw food.
11. A and B are correct. When buying fresh seafood, buy only from reputable dealers who keep their products refrigerated or properly iced. Be wary, for example, of vendors selling fish out of their creel (canvas bag) or out of the back of their truck.
Once you buy the seafood, immediately put it on ice, in the refrigerator or in the freezer. Some other tips for choosing safe seafood:
- Don't buy cooked seafood, such as shrimp, crabs or smoked fish, if displayed in the same case as raw fish. Cross-contamination can occur. Or, at least, make sure the raw fish is on a level lower than the cooked fish so that the raw fish juices don't flow onto the cooked items and contaminate them.
- Don't buy frozen seafood if the packages are open, torn or crushed on the edges. Avoid packages that are above the frost line in the store's freezer. If the package cover is transparent, look for signs of frost or ice crystals. This could mean that the fish has either been stored for a long time or thawed and refrozen.
- Recreational fishers who plan to eat their catch should follow state and local government advisories about fishing areas and eating fish from certain areas.
- As with meat and poultry, if seafood will be used within two days after purchase, store it in the coldest part of the refrigerator, usually under the freezer compartment or in a special "meat keeper." Avoid packing it in tightly with other items; allow air to circulate freely around the package. Otherwise, wrap the food tightly in moisture-proof freezer paper or foil to protect it from air leaks and store in the freezer.
- Discard shellfish, such as lobsters, crabs, oysters, clams and mussels, if they die during storage or if their shells crack or break. Live shellfish close up whe the shell is tapped.
12. If you are under treatment for any of these diseases, as well as several others, you should avoid raw seafood.
People with certain diseases and conditions need to be especially careful because their diseases or the medicine they take may put them at risk for serious illness or death from contaminated seafood.
These conditions include:
- liver disease, either from excessive alcohol use, viral hepatitis, or other causes
- hemochromatosis, an iron disorder
- stomach problems, including previous stomach surgery and low stomach acid (for example, from antacid use)
- immune disorders, including HIV infection
- long-term steroid use, as for asthma and arthritis
Older adults also may be at increased risk because they more often have these conditions.
People with these diseases or conditions should never eat raw seafood -- only seafood that has been thoroughly cooked.
When several members of a household come down with sudden, severe diarrhea and vomiting, intestinal flu is often considered the likely culprit. But food poisoning may be another consideration.
A true diagnosis is often never made because the ill people recover without having to see a doctor.
Health experts believe this is a common situation in households across the country, and because a doctor is often not seen for this kind of illness, the incidence of food-borne illness is not really known.
A task force of the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, a private organization of food science groups, estimated in 1994 that 6.5 million to 33 million cases of food-borne illness occur in the United States each year. While many reported cases stem from food prepared by commercial or institutional establishments, sporadic cases and small outbreaks in homes are considered to be far more common, according to the April 1995 issue of Food Technology.
Cases of home-based food-borne illness may become a bigger problem, some food safety experts say, partly because today's busy family may not be as familiar with food safety issues as more home-focused families of past generations.
A 1993 FDA survey found that men respondents tended to be less safe about food practices than women respondents and that respondents younger than 40 tended to be less safe than those over 40.
For example, when asked if they believed that cooked food left at room temperature overnight is safe to eat without reheating--a very unsafe practice--12 percent of the men respondents (but only 5 percent of the women respondents) said yes.
And, in looking at age differences, the survey found that nearly 40 percent of respondents younger than 40 indicated they did not adequately wash cutting boards, while only 25 percent of those 60 and over indicated the same.
The increased use of convenience foods, which often are preserved with special chemicals and processes, also complicates today's home food safety practices, said Robert Buchanan, Ph.D., lead scientist for FDA's food safety initiative. These foods, such as TV dinners, which are specially preserved, give consumers a false idea that equivalent home-cooked foods are equally safe, he said.
To curb the problem, food safety experts recommend food safety education that emphasizes the principles of HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point), a new food safety procedure that many food companies are now incorporating into their manufacturing processes. Unlike past practices, HACCP focuses on preventing food-borne hazards, such as microbial contamination, by identifying points at which hazardous materials can be introduced into the food and then monitoring these potential problem areas. (See HACCP: Patrolling for Food Hazards in the January-February 1995 FDA Consumer.)
"It's mainly taking a common-sense approach towards food safety in the home," said Buchanan.
"Basically, consumers need to make sure they're not defeating the system by contaminating the product."
FDA's Office of Consumer Affairs
Rockville, MD 20857
FDA Consumer Information Line
(301) 827-4420 in the Washington, D.C. area
10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday
FDA Seafood Hotline
(202) 205-4314 in the Washington, D.C., area
24 hours a day
USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline
(202) 720-3333 in the Washington, D.C., area
Recorded messages available 24 hours a day. Home economists and registered dietitians available 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday.
Also check with:
- your supermarket or its consumer affairs department
- your local county extension home economist
- local health departments
- food manufacturers
Food safety educators may contact:
Foodborne Illness Education Information Center
Food and Nutrition Information Center
National Agricultural Library/USDA
Beltsville, MD 20705-2351
Facsimile (301) 504-6409
Lead leached from some types of ceramic dinnerware into foods and beverages is often consumers' biggest source of dietary lead, says John Jones, Ph.D., in FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (See "Lead Threat Lessens, But Mugs Pose Problem" in the April 1993 FDA Consumer and "An Unwanted Souvenir: Lead in Ceramic Ware" in the December 1989-January 1990 FDA Consumer.) Here are some tips to reduce your exposure:
- Don't store acidic foods, such as fruit juices, in ceramic containers.
- Avoid or limit to special occasions the use of antique or collectible housewares for food and beverages.
Follow label directions on ornamental ceramic products labeled "Not for Food Use--May Poison Food" or "For Decorative Purposes Only," and don't use these items for preparing or storing food.
Also, don't store beverages in lead crystal containers for extended periods.
High temperature use of some microwave food packaging material may cause packaging components, such as paper, adhesives and polymers, to migrate into food at excessive levels. For that reason, choose only microwave-safe cooking containers. Never use packaging cartons for cooking unless the package directs you to do so. (See ";Keeping Up with the Microwave Revolution" in the March 1990 FDA Consumer.)
According to FDA's Jones, there has been speculation linking aluminum to Alzheimer's disease. The link has never been proved, he said, but if consumers are concerned, they should avoid cooking acidic foods, such as tomato sauce, in aluminum pans. For other uses, well-maintained aluminum pans--as well as stainless steel, copper and iron pots and pans--present no apparent hazards.
- Avoid storing food in cabinets that are under the sink or have water, drain and heating pipes passing through them. Food stored here can attract insects and rodents through openings that are difficult to seal adequately.
- Wash the tops of cans with soap and water before opening.