April 17, 2014 at 1:30 PM ET
Do you wash a lemon before putting a slice in your water? Do you use the same kitchen towel to wipe your hands and counters? Do you grab ice from your freezer with bare hands?
Peter DeLucia, assistant health commissioner for Westchester County in New York, joined TODAY to explain how these six mistakes in your kitchen at home would be considered major health violations in a restaurant.
1. Do you grab ice from the freezer with your bare hands?
If you use your bare hands, you could be putting yourself at risk for cross contamination of any bacteria or viruses when you put that ice into your drink. Though bacteria won’t multiply on ice, they do live on ice. In a restaurant, using your bare hands to touch ice is a critical health violation.
What to do: Have a scooper in your freezer or use tongs for your ice bucket. If you have a dispenser, you're ahead of the game!
2. Do you wash your citrus fruits before you eat them?
Citrus fruits, like lemons, limes and oranges, can be some of the dirtiest fruits in the grocery store. Many hands touch them from the time they are packed to when they are placed on store shelves. When you put citrus fruits directly in your drink or on your plate, you may be consuming microbes and bacteria. When you slice through the fruits, you can also inject anything bad that is on the outside to the inside. To avoid a code violation in a restaurant, you have to wash lemons and limes and wear gloves when cutting them.
What to do: Wash your citrus fruits with equal parts of vinegar and water solution or a small scrub brush.
3. Do you keep a dish towel next to your kitchen sink to wipe your hands or counters?
A lot of people use the same dish towel to wipe their hands and counters. When you cut your poultry, raw meat or eggs and then wash your hands and dry them, you are spreading germs that are not fully washed off onto that towel. Then, when you wipe down the counters with the same towel, cross contamination happens yet again.
What to do: Use one towel exclusively for your hands and a separate one for your counters. Soak towels for your counters in a sanitizing solution of bleach and water.
4. Do you use a cooking thermometer?
Don't rely on just the oven temperature. Make sure to check the temperature of the food itself. Improper cooking is one of the leading causes of foodborne illness. In restaurants, you need to have an idea of the exact temperature of your oven or grill, or you will be violating code.
What to do: You should have one thermometer to ensure potentially hazardous foods are cooked to the right temperature. Stick the thermometer right inside the meat. Poultry should be at least 165 degrees. Ground beef products should be at least 160 degrees.
5. Is your kitchen floor in good condition and how often do you clean it?
Cracks in the floor are a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses. If your kitchen floor is not thoroughly cleaned, cross contamination can occur when you step on it and move throughout your house. In a restaurant, if there are any cracks or missing sections of grout or chips, you will be under a big health violation.
What to do: Don't sweep, just wet mop it. Depending on the type of floor, you can use bleach, but make sure never to mix it with ammonia. Cracked floors should be patched up quickly.
6. How often do you clean your phone in the kitchen?
If you answer your phone while you’re cooking, any of the bacteria or microbes on your hands are now on the keypad. And viruses and bacteria can hide in between the keys. In a commercial establishment, you are required to clean your non-food contact surfaces, such as phones, handles and doorknobs.
What to do: Use antibacterial surface wipes to clean your non-food contact surfaces in the kitchen at least once a week.