Friday, January 2, 2015

How Safe is Your Food? How Clean is Your Kitchen?

Tonight I went on a Google Quest (I coined that phrase! As far as I can Google, no one else has said it previously! Yeah yeah!) because I wondered if my chrome shelving unit in my kitchen was safe for storing dry, canned, or packaged foods.

You see, my lovely 70s kitchen doesn't have enough cabinets to store all of my dishes, small appliances and food. Plus, we don't currently have the funds to redo our entire kitchen, so I lined one of my kitchen walls with two chrome shelving units. One is wide, one is very skinny! They're your basic Target-brand chrome shelves (I totally love them!), but they aren't NSF-certified. Thus, I wondered if there is a safety issue in storing my family's food on them??

These are not my shelves, this is a Target photo. My shelves are jam-packed with a lot of food and a few miscellaneous kitchen items. :)
As you might guess, I'm a little nervous when it comes to food safety. I'm already very concerned about avoiding gluten cross-contact, so I didn't want to add to my family's food problems with metal-shelving-contamination too! Ha ha. Thankfully, when I did umpteen Google searches of chrome-shelving-safety, I couldn't find anything on the dangers of using non-NSF-certified chrome shelving units. Yay for that good news! :)

After researching, I've come to the conclusion that it's okay to store dry/canned/packaged goods on metal shelving units as long as they aren't rusted or corroding. I'm guessing it's okay to make your own shelving units out of wood, as well. By the way, be sure not to store any chemicals on your food shelves or anywhere near your food. (*Please don't sue me for my statement if something goes wrong with your food storage—I'm not an expert. If someone else knows of information about this topic, please share.)

All of that said, I will state that I absolutely feel it's best to use NSF-certified shelves if you can. I was just curious about the safety of my chrome shelves that didn't have the nifty NSF stamp on them—did I need to buy new NSF-certified ones? I'm really happy I don't have to buy new shelves, or transfer all of our stuff onto said new shelves! Whew!

While perusing many documents I found on food storage safety, I came across a gem of a jewel! This 97-page PDF, "food PROTECTION TRAINING MANUAL", is authored by New York City's Department of Mental Health and Hygeine. Here's its opening paragraph,
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has the jurisdiction to regulate all matters affecting health in the city and to perform all those functions and operations that relate to the health of the people of the city.
I read most of the manual (I couldn't help myself, I wanted to know more about food safety!), but skimmed some parts of it. Granted, this manual is for commercial/public food establishments, but the PDF shares great tips for keeping all kitchens and food storage areas clean and free of unwanted problems—which ultimately leads to safe food and healthy people. Thus, I had to share—and I highly recommend reading it! :)

I think every kitchen (and food storage area) in America should be as clean and safe as any public food establishment in New York City—ready to be inspected by employees of The Inspector General's office at any moment! Ha ha. But really, if we expect restaurants, cafes, diners, food trucks, grocery stores, etc., to be so clean and safe, why would we expect anything less from our own homes?! I mean, most Americans spend more time eating at home than anywhere else! Well, maybe not everyone. I'm assuming a lot of people eat-out for most of their meals. Because of my children's celiac disease, my family eats 99% of our meals at home—or when we do eat away from home, our food is from our kitchen.

Full disclosure? When I wrote that previous paragraph, I was totally thinking of myself. Yes, my kitchen has been known to hold dirty dishes for a few days in a row. Don't get me wrong, I'm so completely safe when it comes to food preparation (and my dishes are always perfectly clean when preparing food), but kitchen cleanup is a different story. (See my post "Downton Adrie" for illumination.)

I can pinpoint the cause of my kitchen-cleanup habit back to when I was working through hypothyroidism after my daughter was born. I was simply too exhausted to finish the dishes after making dinner. I would get around to doing the dishes when I finally found the energy. Throw in the fact that, at one point, my husband and I had three children ages four and under, and we moved 11 times in 16 years of marriage, and you have neglected dishes in our kitchen. And it became a habit.

Don't blame my husband for our dirty dishes problem, either. For he was busy working 10-14 hour days and getting his Master's degree (he almost finished), and then his MBA (he graduated)! He did the dishes whenever he could. Yes, we were busy and worn out!

These days, our kitchen is much improved! :) It's clean more often than not. Yay us! But, would it be ready at a moment's notice if The Inspector General knocked on our door? Not always. Thus, I'm going to make a concerted effort to clean our kitchen after every meal. I refuse to have OCD tendencies about it because I know there are times when life happens and the dishes will simply need to remain dirty for a while, but I will do better. :)

Lastly, here's another great article on food safety "Safe Food Handling Fact Sheets" by the United States Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service. It has numerous PDFs that will pretty much answer any question you might have about food safety.

The good news is, I'll continue being thrilled with my space-saving happy-shiny Target shelves! I'm relieved knowing I'll sleep soundly tonight, for I won't worry one little bit about my family's food safety! :)

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