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Test your food-handling IQ

Before you make your next summertime meal, take this quiz

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You're always washing your hands and your kitchen is spotless.

Even if you take great pride in ensuring the food you prepare is safe, chances are you may be committing a few gaffes, according to Health Canada, which estimates that 11 million to 13 million Canadians are struck with food poisoning every year.

Food safety specialists agree the chances of ingesting food-bourne pathogens goes up when temperatures soar and outdoor grilling (and eating) become commonplace.

Want to test your food-handling savvy? Before you prepare your next summertime meal, take our quiz:

1. You're hosting a backyard barbecue and one of your guests wants his hamburger medium rare. You:

A. Comply. (You make sure the burger is well browned on the outside, but juicy and a just a hint of pink on the inside).

B. Only comply if you're working with fresh, quality beef that you ground yourself that day.

C. Tell him that you don't want to make him sick and proceed to cook the burger until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 F.

2. You don't want to cross-contaminate your food, so you're always sure to disinfect your wood cutting board. To do so, you clean the board with:

A. White vinegar.

B. The dishwasher.

C. Soap, water and bleach.

3. The best way to thaw frozen, raw meat is to:

A. Leave it on the counter for several hours, ensuring that your kitchen is cool and dry.

B. Put it in the fridge.

C. Place it in a sink filled with hot water that you change often.

4. You know that chicken can harbour salmonella. To make sure your chicken breasts and legs are cooked properly, you:

A. Check that there's no pink inside.

B. Cook to an internal temperature of 165 F.

C. Cook to an internal temperature of 185 F.

5. You grilled some vegetables last night and accidently left them on the counter overnight. You're debating about whether to eat them today. Here's what crosses your mind:

A. You won't risk it. You've heard that dangerous pathogens can grow on all foods, even if they are cooked and plant-based.

B. You'll be safe dining on the left-out veggies. (After all, they are cooked as well as meat and dairy free).

C. The veggies still smell fresh, so they'll be safe to eat .

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1. C is correct, to the dismay of some foodies. It's relatively safe to eat a properly cooked medium-rare steak. Ground beef is different. Any existing E. coli on the beef is pressed through the meat once it's ground. A rare burger could still harbour some nasty bacteria in its centre. That's why the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) recommends cooking hamburgers to an internal temperature of 160 F. That's a temperature proven to destroy E. coli., a bacteria that causes diarrhea, vomiting and fever. At its worst, it can kill.

It's true that the longer ground beef sits around, the more likely any existing E. coli will multiply. Freshly ground beef cooked right away could harbour less E. coli.

This bacteria is naturally found in the intestines of cows and other animals. During the slaughtering process, some E. coli can inadvertently land on meat -- even the finest cuts. Use a good food thermometer to ensure your meat is cooked safely. Still tempted to cook up a rare burger? If you've known anyone whose fallen ill from an undercooked burger, you know it's not worth the risk. Use an instant-read thermometer to be sure.

2. Once again, C is the correct answer. The first step to cleaning a cutting board is to scrub it well with soap and lots of running hot water, according the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). If you like, you can also take your disinfection to another level by killing microbes with a weak bleach and water solution. Health Canada recommends using one teaspoon of bleach in three cups of water. Flood the board with the solution. Let stand for a few minutes and rinse well with lots of water. (This is one of the only room temperature mixtures that will kill E. coli, according to an Ohio State University food safety researcher.) The science is murky on the pathogen-killing abilities of white vinegar. There are several studies that show vinegar does reduce bacteria counts. However, it does not kill everything. As for the dishwasher, never wash wooden cutting boards or spoons there. The intense heat and water of the dishwasher will eventually split the wood providing bacteria places to hide.

3. You're correct if you chose B. Thawing meat in the fridge is the best way to do so. It definitely requires some planning as thawing a large cut of meat that way could take 24 hours. (Especially if you keep it in its original packaging. Better yet, thaw in a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent any raw meat juices from contaminating other items in your fridge). Avoid thawing raw meat at room temperature, according to the USDA. If you opt to thaw your frozen meat in the sink, never do so in a sink of hot water, which can help bacteria multiply. Instead, thaw it in cold water and change the water every 30 minutes to keep the water cold, say experts.

4. If you chose B, you're right. Chicken pieces need to be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 F to be safe to eat, according to Health Canada. Cooking your chicken parts to 185 F will ensure that it's safe, but it will likely leave it dry and unappetizing. (Whole chicken, on the other hand needs to be cooked to an internal temperature of 185 F). The best way to ensure this is to use an instant-read digital food thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat (and not touching any bone). Using meat colour as a sign of safety doesn't always work. Chicken that has lost its pink colour can still be undercooked. Meanwhile, chicken that's pink inside may actually be safe to eat, according to the USDA. The governmental agency says the pink tinge in safely cooked chicken may be attributed to hemoglobin that stays the same colour even after cooking.

5. The correct answer is A. You'd be wise to toss veggies that were left on the counter overnight, even if they are cooked. That's because room temperature is perfect for promoting swift bacteria growth, says the Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety and Education. (Even cooked foods, such as rice, are at risk of making you sick if left out overnight). Food safety specialists warn that even if a food smells good, it can still be spoiled.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 30, 2012 D1

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