Quiz: How Much Do You Know About Food Safety?

By Chris Woolston, M.S.

Humans aren't the only creatures who love juicy hamburgers, fresh fruit, chicken, potato salad, and other foods of summer. In fact, we have plenty of competition from the likes of E. coli, campylobacter, and salmonella bacteria. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food-borne germs cause 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations, and more than 3,000 deaths in the United States every year. A few precautions will go a long way, whether you're enjoying a summertime picnic or a holiday party. Take this short quiz to find out how much you know about food safety.

1. What's the single most important thing you can do to prevent food poisoning?

a. Wash your hands often, especially while cooking

b. Choose your foods carefully

c. Thoroughly cook all foods

d. Keep your kitchen clean.

2. I keep the temperature of my refrigerator at:

a. 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius)

b. 40 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees C)

c. I have no idea

3. Preparing for a party, you pull an hors d'oeuvre tray of shrimp and deviled eggs out of the fridge. How long can the food safely stay at room temperature?

a. One hour

b. Two hours

c. Three hours

d. Until the guests go home

4. The last time you cooked beef goulash, the stew was:

a. Put in the refrigerator after a couple of hours

b. Stored after you had dessert and watched a video

c. Left at room temperature overnight or longer

5. You're more likely to get food poisoning if you eat your hamburger:

a. Medium rare

b. Well-done

c. Medium

d. None of the above

6. Which of these foods is the LEAST likely to harbor harmful bacteria?

a. Homemade cookie dough

b. Freshly cut cantaloupe

c. Raw alfalfa sprouts

d. Slightly moldy cheese

7. Which is the MOST risky way to wash dishes?

a. In a dishwasher

b. Let them soak in warm water and soap for a few hours, then use that water to wash them with a sponge.

c. Wash them soon after eating and air dry

8. While packing condiments for a picnic, you find several open jars and bottles in the fridge. Which of these items belongs in the trash, not the picnic basket?

a. A three-month-old jar of salsa

b. A two-month-old jar of mayonnaise

c. A five-month-old bottle of ketchup

d. A 10-month-old jar of mustard

9. Which item should never be left in the sun at a picnic?

a. Green apples

b. Hard candies

c. Angel food cake

d. Traditional potato salad

Your Results

1. What's the single most important thing you can do to prevent food poisoning?

The correct answer is: a. Wash your hands often, especially while cooking.

All of these steps are important. But according to a recent study from the University of California at Davis, soap and hot water are generally the best defense against food poisoning. Always wash your hands immediately before handling food and immediately after using the bathroom. Also, scrub your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds after handling raw meat, fish, or poultry.

2. I keep the temperature of my refrigerator at:

The correct answer is: b. 40 degrees Fahrenheit

Refrigerator should stay at 40 F (5 C) or below. But if you chose another answer, you have plenty of company: Many people keep their fridge at 50 degrees or more. Find a thermometer and measure the temperature in your fridge: It's important to keep it at 40 degrees or less because that will stop the growth of most germs that can make you sick. Also, it's best not to keep milk on a refrigerator door shelf: even if the fridge is set on 40 degrees F, the temperature in the door can be much higher and cause the milk to spoil.

3. Preparing for a party, you pull an hors d'oeuvre tray of shrimp and deviled eggs out of the fridge. How long can the food safely stay at room temperature?

The correct answer is: b. Two hours

Most perishable foods can safely stay at room temperature for two hours. After that, they need to be either cooked or refrigerated. The Food and Drug Administration warns you not to "taste-test" items, either: Even the bacteria in a tiny amount of food can make you ill.

4. The last time you cooked beef goulash, the stew was:

The correct answer is: a. Put in a refrigerator after a couple of hours

If the stew has been standing at room temperature for more than two hours, you should throw it out. Better to waste some food than make yourself sick.

5. You're more likely to get food poisoning if you eat your hamburger:

The correct answer is: a. Medium-rare hamburger

Raw hamburger can carry E. coli and other nasty bugs. And if your hamburger is still a little pink in the middle, some of those bugs could still be alive. To be safe, cook your burgers all the way through. If you have a meat thermometer, the center should be at least 160 to 165 degrees. Medium-rare steaks and roasts (internal temperature of 145 degrees) are generally safe.

6. Which of these foods is the LEAST likely to harbor harmful bacteria?

The correct answer is: d. Slightly moldy cheese

Moldy cheese may be the least appetizing of the four choices, but it's also the least likely to carry nasty germs. (However, it can still make you sick, especially if you have a mold allergy.) Homemade cookie dough -- or any other product made with raw eggs -- can contain salmonella bacteria. Salmonella can also live on the rind of a cantaloupe, so health officials have urged consumers to handle cantaloupes as they would raw meat. To protect yourself, scrub your hands and then the melon with soap and hot running water before slicing it; if you buy it pre-cut, wash the whole piece - and always wash your hands afterwards as well. Raw sprouts (especially alfalfa, clover, and radish sprouts) have caused outbreaks of salmonella and E. coli infections. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) urges children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems to avoid raw sprouts.

7. Which is the MOST risky way to wash dishes?

The correct answer is b: Let them soak in warm water and soap, then wash them with a sponge in the same water.

Unfortunately, dishes soaking in warm water for several hours can create an unappetizing "bacteria soup," according to the FDA: The nutrients in the food left on the plates create food for the bacteria, which then multiply in their warm bath. In addition, unless kitchen sponges are washed regularly in the dishwasher or washing machine, they're often teeming with bacteria themselves. So the best bet is to wash the dishes soon after eating and let them air dry.

8. While packing condiments for a picnic, you find several open jars and bottles in the fridge. Which of these items belongs in the trash, not the picnic basket?

The correct answer is: a. A three-month-old jar of salsa

A fridge set at 40 degrees or lower will keep condiments fresh for as long as possible, but most food has its time limit. Jars of salsa that have been opened will keep for about one month, mayonnaise for two months, ketchup for six months, and mustard will last for up to a year, according to an advisory from the University of California at Davis. Marking your jars with the date you opened it will help you keep track.

9. Which item should never be left in the sun at a picnic?

The correct answer is: d. Traditional potato salad.

Okay, this one was almost too easy: Traditional potato salad contains mayonnaise, which can quickly develop bacteria in the sun. But bacteria can also multiply in other favorite picnic favorites like chicken barbeque and even sliced watermelon if the food is left outside too long.

References

"CDC Reports 1 in 6 Get Sick from Foodborne Illnesses Each Year," U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention news release, Dec. 15, 2010.

Foodborne Diseases. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, 2007 (last updated).

Kurtzweil, Paula. Can Your Kitchen Pass the Food Safety Test? FDA Consumer magazine. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Outbreak of Salmonella poona in Western U.S. related to contaminated canteloupes. Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services.

Safe Food to Go. Food Safety and Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Safety Information/Food Poisoning. University of California at Davis.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Bacteria and Foodborne Illnesses. October 2003.

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