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Food Handling & Preparation at Home Often Inadequate

If home kitchens are any indication of safe food handling, most would not make the grade. According to an on-line food safety quiz developed by Los Angeles public health officials, just 34% of respondents received an A rating; 27% a B; and 14% a C. That means a quarter of respondents didn’t even make a letter grade.

Food poisoning accounts for a large number of hospital visits and sick days for people of all ages in the U.S. Improper food handling and preparation at restaurants and in homes is an important contributor to this problem.

To promote safer food hygiene in the home, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health launched the Home Kitchen Self-Inspection Program in early 2006. The program is a voluntary self-inspection and education program that includes a Food Safety Quiz. Quiz questions were based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food safety education principles – clean, separate, cook and chill.

During 2006-2008, results for the Food Safety Quiz were tracked. Over 27,000 individuals participated with the majority (71%) living in the Los Angeles area. Study participants were primarily English speaking women (68%), between the ages of 18 – 59 years (78%), who were the primary cook at home (81%).

Answers to key questions that influenced a participant’s rating included the following:

64% rapidly cooled and stored big portions of food to serve later
36% had a properly working thermometer in refrigerator
33% stored raw meats below all other food in refrigerator
28% removed all jewelry before preparing food
27% stored partially cooked foods in refrigerator before serving
26% had clean kitchen shelves & cabinets
23% had food in refrigerator well spaced so cool air can circulate

The on-line quiz, which is available in English only, includes 45 questions regarding food handling practices. The entire questionnaire takes fewer than 10 minutes to complete. Based on the answers, each participant receives a letter grade much like the ones posted in restaurants. Respondents receiving an A rating had 90%-100% of the questions answered correctly. To receive a B rating, 80%-89% of the answers were correct; a C rating had 70%-79% of the answers correct. The percentage of homes that received an A or B rating was 61%.

The report authors concluded that even among highly motivated and educated individuals, the prevalence of unsafe food handling and preparing methods is high. But, innovative tools that educate the public about home kitchen safety can help reduce foodborne illnesses.

The Bottom Line

Would you dine at a restaurant with a C rating? Probably not. How about a D rating? Absolutely not. Unfortunately, how we prepare food in the home puts many of us in the C and D rating category.

Want to determine your at home food hygiene rating? Then take the brief online quiz. You may be surprised at your results. I consider myself to be well-informed and I only received a C rating! But, the wrong answer to two questions reduced my score. That was an eye opener!

By adopting simple measures of food preparation and handling, you can improve your home rating score. For example, using color coded cutting boards helps to separate different foods. Reserve a green board for produce, red for meats, blue for cooked foods and white for dairy. Microwaving sponges and plastic scouring pads for 2 minutes can kill 99 percent of bacteria, viruses or parasites, as well as spores that causes illness.

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