Digging Deeper: Home Food Safety - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Digging Deeper: Home Food Safety

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Eau Claire (WQOW) - Restaurant reviews and inspection reports can be looked up and scrutinized online, but health experts said most homes would not pass a food safety test. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were over 860 foodborne illness outbreaks in 2014 with more than 13,000 illnesses and 21 deaths. The CDC said 12 percent of those outbreaks came from home kitchens where things tend to be a bit more carefree than in a restaurant. 

"We don't want people having animals in the kitchen, but obviously that is something that at your home kitchen, that might just be the way it is," Eau Claire City-County Health Department Environmental Health Specialist Alyssa Streveler said. "The cat runs across the counter, or maybe you feed your dog a piece of baby carrot while you are making dinner. Those are risks we take at home that we would not expect to see in a restaurant."

Streveler said a restaurant's focus is often on cleanliness with multiple people and family groups coming through their door. For example, a restaurant dishwasher needs to reach a sanitization temperature to kill germs before it is used by another customer in a restaurant. Meanwhile, most home dishwashers never reach a sanitization temperature, and often do not need to since the plates are just used by family members, and not hundreds of customers. Streveler said the home focus is on how the food is stored and prepared. 

Eau Claire City-County Health Department Director of Environmental Health Shane Sanderson said parents need to keep an eye on expiration dates, and not rely on the sniff test for safety. 

"It is not going to smell bad when the food is dangerous," Sanderson said. "It is just going to smell bad when it is spoiled."

Sanderson explained dangerous pathogens peak in foods before the spoiling organisms that make the product smell bad show up. 

Streveler said meats or other cold foods should be stored below 41 degrees in the refrigerator to keep bacteria at bay, and any thawing of foods should be done in the fridge. 

"We call it the temperature danger zone between 41 and 135 degrees" Streveler said.

She said fridges that are overstuffed could compromise the health of the food, especially if hot foods are placed in the fridge, warming the area. Streveler also advised avoiding cross-contamination by having different colored cutting boards for raw meats and ready to eat foods, and to store raw and ready to eat foods separately in the fridge. 

"You want your ready to eat foods up high and your raw meats down low because you do not want to get raw meat juice on foods that do not need to be cooked to kill bacteria," Streveler said. 

When it is time to cook meats, Streveler said it is important to use a meat thermometer to make sure the different foods are being cooked to appropriate temperatures. The safe minimum cooking temperate for beef is 160 degrees, chicken is 165 degrees and pork is 145 degrees. Sanderson said even when cooked foods are reheated in the microwave, they should reach those temperatures. 

Sanderson said cleaning carefully with chlorine bleach could help prevent the most common outbreaks like E. coli, Salmonella, or norovirus. 

"Right now, norovirus, unlike 20 years ago, is 50 percent of the outbreaks every year," Sanderson said. 

Health officials said it is also important to stay away from cooking preparations for two weeks after being sick with anything from the flu to the common cold because those viruses can stay in the human body and spread to others in the home. 

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