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Am I the only one who lives in a magic house? A lighthearted look at ourselves & food safety

I sometimes feel like I live in a magic house completely uncontaminated by food pathogens and in which food can be left out without spoilage or infection. Guests may come dirty, but walk through the front door and are magically sterilized. Although I keep a very clean kitchen and store things properly, I just don't worry about food poisoning in my magic house.

What about you? How do you rate yourself, from food slob in a magic house to a follower of all the food handling "rules" in a dark, contaminated universe?

Please keep this lighthearted and fun. Just provide your approach. No citing of USDA or other rules and recommendations, please.

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  1. I think I live in a magic house myself. I do the usual--wipe down counters, etc., but unless I'm cooking for guests, I don't worry too much about food poisoning either. My cat stays off the counters, but she wanders the floors and yes, there's probably cat fur and dander floating around. The 6-second rule for me personally can extend up to 6 weeks :) I've been known to find a toasted hazelnut on the floor that probably fell down the week before and I've still eaten it. Still pretty good! Obsessive? Absolutely not! I've defrosted things on the counter, I"ve left mayonnaise-y things out probably too long, and I eat stuffing that's been cooked inside the turkey WITHOUT checking the temperature. I eat raw cookie dough with uncooked eggs. Anyway, Sam, perhaps you should write a book full of magic kitchen tips!
    And I'm rarely sick ( and when I am, it's something like a migraine or the occasional hangover of the headache-y variety).

    1. On previous threads along this topic line I have stated I follow the same methods I learned as a cook, and working in the food purchasing business. I dont want to risk getting myself, or family members sick so I error on the side of caution, and if I even have a small doubt somehting may be bad it goes in the trash without second thought. Throwing out $3 worth of questionable ground beef or chicken vs a hospital bill, or a day off from work ill, is a no-brainer.

      We keep our kitchen spotless, and I run it like a restaurant. Food is labled, and stored correctly, and safe food handling, prep, cooking, and storage techniques are followed. This is easy since I do all the cooking, prep, and purchasing of the food.

      I do not sit in fear of food contamination, since I follow basic guidlines & practices I have learned over the years, and have the utmost confidence in these practices. Error on the side of caution and all is good in my world.

      16 Replies
      1. re: swsidejim

        What a great post.
        I follow the same methods and feel the same way.
        It's all simple common sense.

        1. re: swsidejim

          New here, sorry for the late post. This is the way I was raised, and trained in my first job as a SO cook at a 12-seat lunch counter.

          My mother (a former nursing student) taught me to rinse the clean dishes with boiling water, something I never do any more when washing dishes by hand. I don't take the garbage out and sweep the floor every night, either. I've gotten a little lax over the years.

          On the other hand, my mother-in-law was a fabulous cook, but I had to teach her how to clean her wooden cutting board. I'm still meticulous about clean hands and surfaces and habitually wash everything down before starting a meal. Some habits are hard to overcome.

            1. re: elegraph

              works for jfood. he has a cutting board that is meat only. never a vegetable has touched that puppy.

              1. re: jfood

                I've never understood the "meat only" cutting board. Vegetable only, sure. But if I'm making a pot of stew, I don't need a second cutting board to chop the veggies that are going in the same pot with the beef...they're all getting just as well cooked.

                  1. re: dtremit

                    I agree! I have a large wooden board that I use for bread, vegetables, and fruit only. I have separate plastic boards that I use interchangeably for meat, poultry, and fish, but I have no problem chopping vegetables on the meat board if they're about to go in the same pot as the meat anyway.

                  2. re: jfood

                    I guess I fall somewhere in mid-spectrum. While I don't obsessively clean out the letters on my stove with a toothpick, I do have a "thing" about separating cutting boards and sterilizing them, and I keep the floor clean enough that should something fall on it, I feel perfectly safe eating it. Mind you, I wouldn't lick spilled pudding up off the floor, but a piece of chopped fruit that flies off the chopping board? "Under the teeth, over the gums, look out tummy, here it comes."
                    And I've had food poisoning exactly twice: once at the home of a friend whom I believe holds a blackbelt in compulsive housecleaning; and once recently at a seafood shack that also looked pretty damn clean. Never a thing from my semi-sloppy practices, though; and (knock wood) my guests either.
                    Work's another story. I do run that kitchen like a restaurant kitchen, following every single rule of sanitization that I can think of.

                    1. re: mamachef

                      I have color coded cutting boards made of some white poly that are NSF rated for safety. They come as follows:

                      Tan.......Bread
                      Red.......Meat
                      Yellow.....Poultry
                      Green....Vegetables
                      Blue.......Fish

                      The only problem.....I've been accused of being color blind.

                      1. re: fourunder

                        Chef Kunz at Lespinasse does the exact same color-coding thing. I think it's a great idea, especially when feeding the public.

                        1. re: mamachef

                          A while back while strolling through a flea market, I came across a vendor who was selling these boards very cheaply, only a few dollars each.....13 x 21 and 10 x 14.......I purchased all he had and he gave me a package deal. One of my luckier deals.

                        2. re: fourunder

                          How many do you need if you keep kosher + Chinese?

                    2. re: elegraph

                      but somehow, she managed to survive unscathed with a dirty cutting board before you showed her how to take care of it properly?

                      I'm giggling as this just sounds so strange. I'm not saying your method is wrong, and honestly, I should probably worry about these things more. But to date, I have only known people to get sick from eating in restaurants. Never at home.

                      I definitely live in a magic house =)

                      1. re: lisa13

                        "She managed to survive unscathed with a dirty cutting board before you showed her how to take care of it properly?"

                        It all depends on what our bodies are exposed to or get used to. My mother-in-law will leave a thanksgiving spread on the table, covered by a cloth all night and serve it the next day. I didn't realize that is what she was doing and got food poinsoning twice, but no one else came down ill because they ate from her kitchen regularly and grew up that way. My husband calls it an iron stomach.

                        I am pretty okay with my habits and don't normally get any kind of stomach ailments. I don't sterilize things other than to give my good wood board a scrubbing with hot water and a rinse in vinegar or lemon juice. I also do put bleach in my sink and on my dish brush.Other than that, I just give a good soap and water wipe down with an immpecably clean kitchen sponge.

                        1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                          We have the same mother in law! Except mine only leaves things out from about 8 am until dinner time. (Yes, including the turkey. My FIL gets up extra early to cook it.) I was also sick 2 x's before I realized what was going on!

                    3. re: swsidejim

                      God, I would hate to be your spouse!

                    4. I'm ashamed to admit that my kitchen sanitation skill are less than ideal!

                      Like nofunlatte, I've been known to pick things off the floor- I mean, if it just fell...how much could it hurt?!
                      I'll eat anything in my fridge just as long as it doesn't taste off.
                      Soups and stews will be left on the stove for days- after the third day, if it's not gone, it'll go in the fridge.
                      But I can't even remember the last time I've gotten sick from home cooked food!

                      Just some facts:
                      -I don't wear shoes in the house
                      -I'm Korean- I eat lots and lots of kimchi
                      -A lot of the foods I eat are miso based, seasoned with vinegar, or Korean red pepper paste-based. This may increase the viability of dishes
                      -I'm a girl
                      -I'm incredibly fastidious with it comes to everything else!

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: dream75517

                        "I'm a girl"
                        OMG, I'm LOL here. Thanks for the laugh!

                        I too live in a magic house - never been sick from anything I've cooked, and I am not fastidious at all! Although I don't go barefoot in the house due to foot pain without shoes.

                        1. re: dream75517

                          I'm pretty much with you on all counts, dream75517, though I don't eat that much kimchi or miso-, vinegar- or red pepper-based foods. apparently, the shared facts of us being girls and not wearing shoes in the house is enough to keep us from getting sick.

                          1. re: dream75517

                            Haha, the secret's out- Boys, sorry!
                            But really, I'm just not a germaphobe...Growing up with a nurse for a mother fosters a sense of shame about caring about the little germs- she would pooh pooh and laugh me out of the house!
                            I think that eating questionable foods has given me the immunity that I have today..and it was totally worth it!
                            The best thing you could do is wash your hands (preferably not anti-bacterial- lowers immunity!) and trust your gut in the kitchen!

                          2. I KNOW I live in a magic house because Tinker Bell lives in my entryway. Whenever someone comes through the front door, she sprinkles them with pixie dust and all of the villainous germs and microbes and nasties disappear. I do suspect that some of them escape back out the front door before she hits 'em with a blast, because guests have been known to become contaminated the minute they walk out the door. She makes a couple of trips daily throughout the house scattering the magic over any possibly lurking baddies, opens the refrigerator and dusts the inside.

                            I don't allow anyone to enter the house the first time through the back door or the patio doors. I do have a fairy that lives in my back yard, but he's not magic. He's just a plain old squirrel drag queen who can't even keep the pecans from going bad when they're on the ground too long.

                            If you think I['m joking, then how come no one has EVER gotten sick from eating in my house? Magic! Tinker Bell's magic!

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Caroline1

                              LOL...
                              I make everyone take a shower when they enter my Magic House.
                              Then they must drink alot of water...at least 2 liters while visiting.
                              Do you think that helps?

                              1. re: latindancer

                                hmmm... Could be great, could be a problem... Depends entirely on how long they stay and the strength of their sphincter urethrae. '-)

                            2. Magic House! We should get Pete Townshend to come out of retirement and write a song...

                              I think i rate on the food slob side of things, with occasional breakout moments to food safety nazi. I think I am evolving as I get older, maybe devolving. My influences are varied. I have a scientific/medical background, so I have reasonable knowledge of infectious processes and microbiology. My immediate family are experts in fermentation (dad microbiologist, mum expert kimchi maker and home cook extraordinaire), so between the two of them, I've received quite an education on home-food safety, and I am of the mind that some of our modern food safety rules are a little excessive.

                              Some general rules I've adopted over the ages:

                              1. Expiration dates from manufacturers are optional. But they may be an indication to look and taste carefully before using the item. More often than not, the quality is down. If the item smells off or if there is visible mold/bacteria, it gets tossed. if the texture or taste are off, it gets tossed only because I don't want to eat it for flavour reasons, not food safety reasons. If it looks, smells, tastes ok, whoo hoo! Time to eat!

                              2. Items lost in the back of the fridge/freezer/pantry: See Rule #1.

                              3. If I see mold on a piece of fruit or veg: chop off the moldy bit. But the rest may be salvageable and edible. Ditto cheese. But for some reason, something soft and full of holes like bread, well, less willing to go there.

                              4. After an infestation of mealy worms, I have gone food safety nazi on the storage of dried goods. Lots and lots of sealed containers. Hubbie is asked to clean the cupboards well on regular basis.

                              5. Things left out on counter longer than they should have been left: if it can be boiled, boil it well. If it can be heated, heat it well. For un-heatable items, I will toss mayo-based things that have been for a long-overnight, but if the ingredients seem fairly innocuous, see Rule 1. I have gotten a lot better at putting food away in a timely fashion, so the safety level has improved.

                              6. If you can't beat them, join them. I eat an inordinate number of fermented, microbe infested products: cheese, yogurt, miso, doen jang, kimchi, sauerkraut, yeast-infested bread, wine, just to name but a few of the products which would be inconceivable without our friends bacteria, yeast, and mold. SO my magic house does not automatically sterilize everything that walks in the front door.

                              7. Finally, 5-10 second rule well in place.

                              Now I will comment that I am much more free and easy with food rules when it is just my hubbie and I. When having guests, I become much more Type A. I figure, hubbie and I have developed immunities, but if our guests come from, say, Swsidejim's kitchen, well, wouldn't want to take any risks....

                              29 Replies
                              1. re: moh

                                ". After an infestation of mealy worms, I have gone food safety nazi on the storage of dried goods. Lots and lots of sealed containers. Hubbie is asked to clean the cupboards well on regular basis"

                                I had the same problem and also these little bugs that poked wholes in my flour that was in the cupboard. For the flour I just packed them all in large ziplock bags and the pasta in sealed containers. I will never forget the horror though. I think I through away all the pasta regardless of if it had been attacked or not.

                                1. re: Sandwich_Sister

                                  If you're referring to, what some call, pantry moths in your dried goods - count me as a victim too. That was one of the most tramatizing experiences - ugh. However, they have nothing to do with a lack of sanitation in your home, but rather the dried goods were infested elsewhere. I had a bag of rice from the indian market that I think was the culprit in my case. What a pain in the arse to rid your pantry of those things <shudder>.

                                  I am a total germ freak out in public. I push doors open w/ the back of my hand or my butt <grin>, wash my hands alot, instruct my kids not to use hand rails, etc. But, at home cooking, I don't obsess about all the GD rules (most of which I suspect are baseless). I stuff my turkey, don't have a designated "chix only" cutting board, I thaw meats in the sink, I like my eggs runny, etc. I tighten up my standards when I have guests but otherwise we are a family of iron stomachs!

                                  p.s. My one exception is that I do wash my fruit and some veggies w/ soap and water. I see those nasty people in the grocery store wiping their noses and then man-handling the apples - blech!

                                  1. re: lynnlato

                                    Those pantry moths.. I hate them. They infested my parents' kitchen, and for a while were swarming right outside the window one day a summer or two ago. We had to go through every single box in the cupboards. My parents think it was a bag of bird seeds in the garage that started it, strangely.

                                  2. re: Sandwich_Sister

                                    Go to either a big pet supply place or a good big hardware store and get some moth traps. These open up to little cardboard tents that you place in your cupboards, on top of the fridge, on shelves. The moths are sexually attracted to a little pheromone-impregnated bait and get stuck to the sticky coating inside the trap. They're about $7 for a pack of two, and I usually get about $30 worth if we're seeing lots of those tiny moths.

                                    1. re: Sandwich_Sister

                                      Well my once, and never again, problem with bugs had to do with buying a grain in bulk from a very well known health food store years ago.
                                      I'm a neat freak in my kitchen and it had nothing to do with cleanliness.
                                      The grain was infested at the store level and I simply brought it home and waited for them to hatch.
                                      Ugh.
                                      No more bulk for me.

                                      1. re: latindancer

                                        When we had a moth infestation a few years ago, I mentioned to my husband that I thought they originated from the bulk bins, and he said "you mean we *bought* them?"

                                        Bulk isn't the only culprit, though. I've had moths inside sealed plastic bags of nuts.

                                        1. re: latindancer

                                          Couldn't agree more! I stopped buying 'bulk' decades ago. I used to buy granola often, till one time I reached in for a handful on my kitchen counter and saw it 'waving back at me.' It was teeming with maggots.
                                          And while not a germ-a-phobe, I AM an 'ick'-a-phobe. I see people reaching in to the bulk containers with their bare hands as oppossed to the scoops. The same hands they just sneezed in, or scratched their asses with.

                                          1. re: toastedcheese

                                            Years ago, I stopped buying anything grain from a health food store that had bulk dog biscuits out with clear evidence of grain moths. Even sealed containers had moth larva in them.... So even if you don't buy the bulk food, stuff like rice, cereal, pretzels from a place that has it may be infested.

                                            1. re: toastedcheese

                                              Totally agree with Toastedcheese. Not a germaphobe, but more and more an ickaphobe. The older I get the more careful I get. We still stuffed turkey done on the grill and inside,until we went low carb. Now it doesn't get stuffed. How I miss stuffing with a turkey dinner. I don't leave turkey dinner on the table overnight or all day, but I'm often not too careful to get stuff into fridge or freezer immediately. Poultry I have gotten very careful with, infact I hate to touch it, I don't buy ground beef.....is ground turkey any better? Maybe not, but I don't hear or see big recalls of hundreds of thousand pounds of it. No one has ever to my knowledge gotten ill after eating here, and they all come back!!

                                          2. re: Sandwich_Sister

                                            I'm not a baker, so use very little flour, and it used to always get mealie bugs, even in sealed containers. Now I buy little bags and store it in the freezer - no problem! Generally, I'm pretty relaxed: 3 second rule, but I'm a slow counter. If it smells and looks okay, I don't care how long it's been sitting around; defrost on the counter or in a cold water bath; no chicken-only cutting board, but I will rinse it after chicken and before chopping something that won't be thoroughly cooked. Just learned that bamboo cutting boards have some natural antibacterial properties. Also learned (from Cooks Illustrated article on keeping a safe kitchen) that it's safer to let foods cool a bit before putting them in the fridge for storage. I always did that for energy-saving reasons, but apparently putting food away hot can raise the fridge temp enough to jeopardize other items.

                                            I am more careful about what I serve to other people; not everyone is a barefoot girl with an iron stomach!

                                            1. re: annomy

                                              It has been an extremely hot & humid summer here in TX, and even with A/C I thought I had all of my dry grains in good sealed containers. The other night I grabbed my container of wild rice and it was definitely WILD. I had critters and other stuff growing in there that really freaked me out. It immediately went out on my balcony and it took me a few days to get up the nerve to even touch it!

                                              I am a neat freak, clean freak, and doubt if I will ever use that container again.

                                              On the other hand, just because my container of yogurt or milk or anything else is one day after the expiration date, I won't throw it out. I eat very little meat and if it isn't super fresh it goes in the trash, and that is the same for fish.

                                              I'm really picky about clean utensils in mustard, mayo, jelly, butter or really anything else. When I make tuna fish salad the tuna is drained into a bowl and the water drained is given to my cat in a separate bowl, a clean fork is used to remove the tuna from the can. A new fork is for the mayo, and yet another new fork is for the giardinera. That is the hot peppers I use in my tuna salad.

                                              I can be totally lax in some things like expiration dates, but the complete opposite in others.

                                          3. re: moh

                                            The moths are a naturally occurring phenomenon and have nothing to do with your cleanliness, or the cleanliness of your purveyor. Better that than pesticide, thanks.
                                            That said, I did not love my first infestation of mini-mothra. Moth traps work pretty well. Sealed containers do not solve this particular problem.

                                            Just FREEZE your grains when you get them home, and THEN put them (in sealed containers, since you don't want mice either) on the shelf.

                                            (btw it's really okay to sift a little debris, moths included, out of your rice. But you can avoid that by freezing)

                                            And yes, I live in a magic kitchen. The only strict rule I have is about sticking clean spoons in condiments, honey, jam, etc. No fingers, no double-dipping.
                                            I believe in the power of boiling water to clean. I do not like anything that smells up my kitchen tools like certain commercial dish soap or bleach.

                                            1. re: pitu

                                              Not only that, but eating moths won't make you sick. It's unpleasant, but harmless. Same is true of most molds. And hair, whether it's cat, dog or human. If you have cats and dogs they may be spreading around some nasties from their feces (on their feet, for example), but actually you're more likely to get some kind of parasite/worm than a bacterial illness.

                                              Food poisoning is caused by a fairly small number of specific pathogens, none of which commonly reside in significant numbers in a typical house. If they did, we'd have become resistent to them, just as we have to all the other bacteria and viruses common to our environment.

                                              Salmonella has to come from somewhere. If your chicken didn't have salmonella to begin with, leaving it out for hours, days or even weeks won't magically cause it to grow salmonella (although it could grow something else). And if it did have salmonella and was properly cooked, then the same applies.

                                              If something is safe in a jar for a year, that means it's sterile and will be sterile until the seal is broken, whether it's "expired" or not. Bacteria don't magically appear in a sealed jar on day 366!

                                              The vast majority of food-borne illness comes from raw food and cross-contamination of cooked food by raw food -- if you put your cooked chicken on a plate that had raw chicken on it, all bets are off!

                                              I don't think it's reasonable to assume that food safety requirements applicable to commercial kitchens are necessary for home cooks. Food in restaurants is handled by more people, and has a much higher risk of coming into contact with a wide variety of potential pathogen carrying substances and contaminated tools and surfaces than food at home.

                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                "Not only that, but eating moths won't make you sick. It's unpleasant, but harmless. Same is true of most molds. "

                                                I had heard something about carcinogens from eating food that had been overtaken by moths and larvae, am I misremembering something? I also recall something about aflatoxins from mold in peanuts being carcinogenic. But I am the first to admit I am on shaky ground here.

                                                Anyhow, I suppose if you had to choose between carcinogens and starvation, one might choose the former. I have spent a large part of the holidays being grateful for the fact that I enjoyed a few days of hunger as opposed to over-satiety, and worrying about additives, not what I'll have to eat. I am very fortunate indeed.

                                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                  I think you may want to be much more aware of what lurks on your cats hair and paws. Toxoplasmosis gondii has been linked to a host of mental illnesses most are unaware of. This is why Pregnant woman are not suppose to change litter. Unfortunately we are really not educated well enough on how it can affect anyone who happens to eat something that the microscopic spore landed in via air. The same goes with pin worms the eggs can become airborne. I also use to have a very relaxed position about a lot of things until I started to read about the links of bacteria, fungus,viruses, and parasites to mental health. You may want to read this.

                                                  http://www.newsweek.com/id/60723/page/1

                                                  Cin

                                                  1. re: Cindid

                                                    omitting the life cycle/host/inoculant/parasite integrity issue is problematic much of the article is lacking "context" passage through the gut of ?
                                                    toxoplasmosis,the cat has to "get it " from something,not from somewhere.

                                                    1. re: lcool

                                                      Thank you. The article does not offer much substantiation, does it? I used to work at CDC and my whole job was to test for toxoplasmosis. They definitely recommend that pregnant women not change cat's litter box. But the rest is a bit of a stretch. If it were airborne, I'd certainly have gotten it as I used to make my own antigen by injecting 200 mice a week and then harvestingthe antigen. Caution is good; unfounded alarm is just that.

                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                        Spot on
                                                        Did some CDC and Brother Rockefeller overseas time myself.Last I heard the toxoplasmosis cycle requires "the flea" .As does the tape worm in cats.It isn't something you get in your sleep.So if the cat is inside and 100% free of fleas the risk equastion changes.
                                                        unfounded/naive alarm ???

                                                        1. re: lcool

                                                          I'm not sure about this but my memory (which is as old as I am) is that, yes, for the tapeworm but no for toxoplasma. It seems like the cat would have to ingest the infect material, i.e., killing an infected bird. So if a cat had never gone outside, then I guess fine. But it's easy enough for pregnant women to avoid the cat box (oh, darn, I'm sure they'll all hate that.) But the parasites don't leap and fly around. And die when exposed to air for a period of time. If people would worry about the real dangers than the imagined, they'd probably be alot healthier.

                                                          1. re: c oliver

                                                            or eating vector insects,cats clean,eat the flea,eggs hatch from flea gut into cat gut etc in agreement with your memory
                                                            one of the best of natures "sanitizers" is sunlight.Ergo grazing animals with much rotated space tend to need less chemical support to remain healthy
                                                            in an area with rampant lyme disease our answer is to keep the cats in and bathe the dogs in season.

                                                            1. re: lcool

                                                              I highly suggest keeping your litter box out of the kitchen if you are worried about what you can get from your house cat. Might make dinner more pleasant also. Overall tho you want to keep your pets out of the food prep and cooking space of your home. Dog and cat hair do not add much in the way of flavour or visual appeal if all truth be told.

                                                        2. re: c oliver

                                                          Caution is good; unfounded alarm is profitable. Buy my book and it'll explain why.

                                                          1. re: alanbarnes

                                                            I think a few others beat you to it.

                                                    2. re: pitu

                                                      If you think about it, when you freeze grains to kill any moth eggs (which is also what I do), that doesn't actually remove them. They're still there. Unpleasant to think about, but it doesn't appear to matter otherwise.

                                                      1. re: jlafler

                                                        But why are moths and moth larvae any more repulsive, when you stop to think it through, than birds' eggs, birds, fish, sheep, pigs, or cattle? In today's world of nearly universal availability, choice of food is almost always a form of cultural bias. Not that I'd smack my lips at the chance to sit down to a bowl full of moth larvae for breakfast, but on the other hand, I've never tasted them. '-)

                                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                                          You'll get no argument from me. When I was studying anthropology I knew a guy who had eaten all sorts of things while he was doing his fieldwork in New Guinea. He said that only thing he was expected to eat that he really had trouble with was maggots, but even then, once he'd nerved himself to eat them, they tasted pretty good!

                                                          1. re: jlafler

                                                            "Maggots, the OTHER white meat!" '-)