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What's your kitchen's health grade?

February 22, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Few of us think of eating in as being a risky activity, yet food safety specialists say otherwise. I had health inspectors visit my house with a rather unexpected outcome.

"Homes aren't regulated, but if they were, I think the average score is less than an 'A-,' in the 'C' to 'B' range," said Bill Flynn, vice president of food safety at Everclean Services.

We expect food from restaurants won't make us sick yet most of us don't practice their rules at home. Flynn is paid by restaurants to make sure they get a clean bill of health, but after an inspection at my house with a bioluminescence meter, if he was the county health department, I might be shut down.

A sponge used to clean the house was left at the sink rather than put in the laundry, which transferred loads of bacteria to the counter.

"So if you're doing the right thing the wrong way, for example, if you're washing with a dirty rag, you're making it so much worse," said Flynn.

Keep in mind, you could be microwaving your sponge, you could be using two different cutting boards for both produce and meat and have a host of household cleaners. But, just like at my house, you're not alone.

Most likely you have help: Kids, husbands and cleaning people are all possible suspects. Your family's health is at the mercy of whomever holds the sponge.

Flynn says use hot soapy water or diluted bleach solution plus elbow grease. A good rinse, then dry with a clean towel.

If you microwave a wet sponge, it has to heat to more than 170 degrees, usually two minutes on high.

Cleaning rags get one use, then into the laundry.

Beyond cleaning, check expiration dates on food. Yes, dented or bloated cans indicate toxins.

And you can cut mold off hard cheese but little else. You can't rid of it in bread, meats, soft cheeses, sauces, fruit and the likes, nor can you cook it out.

"You need to throw it out when in doubt," said Flynn.

Statistically, 48 million Americans get sick from food-borne illnesses yearly, so a few tips from restaurants might just keep you safe.