/ Food & Drink, Health

The kitchen check: are you a sloppy Joe or hygiene machine?

A sink filled with dirty dishes

Food Safety Week is in full swing and the FSA wants us to think about our hygiene habits in the kitchen and the risks we take. Are you brave enough to take the Kitchen Check test?

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) uses the annual Food Safety Week to get people thinking about the way they handle food and the everyday risks they might be taking with their health. Most of us are pretty savvy about washing our hands before food preparation, but how many of us are guilty of those little habits that could add up to a nasty case of food poisoning?

I like to think that I’m the tidiest person in my household. I try to clean as I go while I’m making a meal and I’m quite fastidious about washing my hands throughout food preparation. I decided to take the FSA’s new Kitchen Check test to prove my hygiene greatness. You can probably guess what happened next.

Yes, I got my comeuppance. My Kitchen Check results declared that I am a ‘Sloppy Joe’, and not the ‘Hygiene Machine’ that I expected. So what am I doing wrong in the kitchen?

Be honest about your hygiene habits

The FSA’s test asks you to be completely honest about how you prepare and store food. So I was completely honest that I don’t clean my kitchen surfaces with hot soapy water or disinfectant before I start cooking. I also owned up to having food in my fridge that is well past its ‘use by’ date, not to mention foods that recommend being consumed within a few days or weeks of opening. I have this strange belief that products like mint sauce and chutney can’t really go bad. Maybe I’ve just been lucky so far.

Do you go the extra mile to keep your kitchen and fridge bug-free? The FSA has lots of great recommendations to reduce the risk of yucky viruses, but some of them were things that I just don’t think about.

For example, I’m not sure if I’ve ever washed my oven gloves since I bought them several years ago. They are silicone coated and they get wiped down when I accidentally dip them in my dinner, but that’s as far as my cleaning goes. Is that normal? I’m now terrified that everyone else out there washes their oven gloves each week and I’m taking outrageous risks.

So please put my out of my misery – am I the only sloppy Joe out there? If you’re feeling brave, try taking the Kitchen Check test as honestly as you can and let me know how you fare. Will you be our first Hygiene Machine?

Try taking the FSA Kitchen Check test. Are you a...?

Sloppy Joe (44%, 26 Votes)

Kitchen Cavalier (31%, 18 Votes)

Hygiene Machine (25%, 15 Votes)

Total Voters: 59

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The Kitchen Check tips on the FSA website are useful but I’m not so sure about the Test. I expect that I would lose marks on the questions about pets and oven gloves, because I don’t have either. The significance of putting a chopping board on the work surface completely escapes me.

Thank goodness there is no reference to using antibacterial cleaning products that are potentially harmful and known to damage the natural environment.

Well it seems I am a “Sloppy Joe” as well. I thought I would at least be in the middle bracket but it’s an odd test that gives no marks for not having a pet. A number of other things in the test were not applicable so points were not available there [we never eat burgers at home – if we ever do have one, like last Sunday at an outdoor event, it’s probably the most unwholesome and unhygienically prepared junk food imaginable]. Never mind, it’s a good refresher course in best practice. It provoked the thought that every “home” style magazine I look at seems to showcase the most cluttered and untidy kitchens with ancient dust-gatherering [preferably rusty] ornaments on every ledge and shelf and even hanging from the ceiling over the must-have island unit [always equipped with tip-over bar stools that probably lead to more spillages and droppings than would ever occur when sitting on a proper chair at a proper table].

Katie – I think the test was largely a reinforcement of existing good practice on our part. We are lucky to have enough food preparation space which is not used for other functions and are constantly keeping the kitchen and the utensils clean, so the concept of a thorough weekly clean is not generally applicable. We could organise the refirigerator better although I don’t think there are any hygiene risks in the present situation because cooked and uncooked meat are always in the correct relative positions – it is just a case of making better sense of the crazy array of shelves, compartments and racks to accommodate the multitude of different sized food packages that we seem to have nowadays. There was nothing past its date in the fridge when I last looked except from some unopened English cheddar cheeze which, on examination and the Ward taste test, seemed to be absolutely perfect.

In terms of keeping kitchens clean, it would help if the cooker hood was banished. This is usually an ugly and disgusting appliance that gathers dust and possibly harbours bacteria. I have to stand on steps to clean and polish it even though we never use it. As a product it has passed into the “essential” category. Perhaps it’s to compensate for the sealed-in effect of modern windows and doors [they can be opened, you know!]

I blame the bad spelling on the West Country farmhouse cheddar.

richard says:
12 June 2013

I am very sceptical – I’m 82 – never had a case of food poisoning in my home or camping. Which has included raw and rotten food due to force of circumstances. I have always had three large dogs in the house since around 1960 and they always eat with me and we share – Haven’t even vomited at home. The ONLY case was a meal eaten in a restaurant that caused the entire restaurant to suffer severe vomiting. I do well cook as a matter of course. But I am certainly very very sceptical – I can only assume this is about people so unhealthy they cannot cope. I don’t even get colds.


Most bacteria are harmless but some are not, and those that can cause food poisoning are well documented. Food poisoning can be unpleasant, sometimes people end up in hospital and rarely it is fatal. Although there is some difference in individual susceptibility, your own experience where many people become ill after eating together helps to demonstrate that everyone can be affected and hence no-one should be complacent.

richard says:
14 June 2013

You’ve missed the point – My food poisoning was CAUSED by someone else NOT by me – I had NO CONTROL on how the food was prepared – I repeat I have never suffered food poisoning in my home with food prepared by me IN MY LIFE – I have done a very extensive amount of camping where any form of washing was a luxury and dirtiness was the order of the day – YET I never ever suffered self inflicted food poisoning in my life. So I am very sceptical of this FSA report – I( have suspicions that you suffer from various illnesses (one of those in poor health). If after 82 years I have not suffered from self inflicted food poisoning (the actual topic of this conversation) then I am not complacent – my food preparation has been proved to be sufficient – Like Clive I believe that far too many people are obsessed with hygiene.. Purely as a matter of interest I can recognise poisonous plants because I studied and taught biology and many many years experience of camping under canvas – somehow I doubt if you have.


It concerns me when I read comments that might encourage others to disregard advice on food safety. If someone posted a comment suggesting that we should not worry too much about speed limits, I’m sure you would take umbrage.

In my response to Clive, I have explained that – as with plants – some bacteria are dangerous even though most are not.

For the record, I have never suffered from food poisoning in my own home. I am certainly not obsessed with cleanliness but having done research and teaching in microbiology I think I could be better informed about food poisoning than many people.

richard says:
14 June 2013

Wavechange – I repeat forcibly this conversation was about PERSONAL HOME INFLICTED FOOD POISONING – NOT about FOOD POISONING IN GENERAL – I Kept to the topic that I noticed you have not – yet have complained about others in the past. If the conversation was about speeding – I would not introduce food poisoning as an argument – My problem is I somehow doubt if you live in the real world in the way I have. I have taken 200 boys on backwoods camping have you? Have you ever gone camping under canvas?? – So I know what actually happens when healthy boys or girls play in the dirt. It concerns me that far too many people obsess about cleanliness. I have already pointed out in previous convos that the “experts” have given two different opinions – one that exposure to dirt and germs allows antibodies to build hardiness and reduces asthma – the other that obsessive cleanliness is the only way – My opinion is obsessive cleanliness is NOT the way to go. End Of.

I have joined the Sloppy Joe club as well. I don’t have any raw meat in the fridge, never buy pork or have burgers to test. I don’t have any unnecessary items to clear away before I start cooking and I don’t have a pet.

Like Richard, I only ever had food poisoning once, after attending a clients Christmas party buffet. I was foolish enough to try some exotic fish little tarts and was really sick after returning home. I would never eat fish again unless I knew how long it had been out of the fridge.

“When cooking burgers I cut into the middle and check that they are steaming hot and cooked all the way through, with no pink meat or blood”

I wouldn’t eat them if they weren’t pink

I’m glad to hear I’m not the only Sloppy Joe in the vicinity. I do have a cat and, try as I might, it’s practically impossible to keep her off of the work surfaces. I’m very careful with things like raw meat – always washing my hands before and after, keeping chopping boards separate and so on. But I have been unfortunate enough to experience food poisoning and I can assure you, I’d never want to go through that again!

I too was curious as to the issue with using chopping boards on work surfaces – I’m not sure where else one COULD use them! I’d never really thought about oven gloves before either, so it’s definitely given me some food for thought.

clive lewis says:
13 June 2013

We are too obsessed with hygiene. I am never ill, have no allergies, can eat anything, including bits I have dropped on the floor and in the cat lit. People, especially children are not exposed too enough bacteria these days. My wife and 12 year old son are the same, never ill, although weren’t impressed by my eating the chip from the cat lit.


What about plants? Most are harmless but some are not. Think about mushrooms – some are tasty and others are deadly. The same applies to bacteria. It is not just live bacteria that are the problem, since some produce toxins that are not removed by heating.

Allergies may be related to what we are exposed to but food poisoning is a very different matter.

Clive: Eating things dropped in the cat litter? Are you serious? Have you ever heard of toxoplasmosis?

There’s a difference between relaxed and reckless!

I shouldn’t feel too bad, as it is almost impossible to score 100% and it is not a proper test.

I use a temperature probe to ensure my food is cooked properly – in fact, that is the only reliable way to test meat for safety. So I lose points because I do not need to check poultry by cutting into the thickest part of the meat and I don’t eat commercial burgers, but if I did I would rely on the temperature probe, not appearance. Really cheap burgers are grey to begin with – so they wouldn’t be pink even if they were cold. I make my own from home-minced meat, which is much safer, even when underdone.

I don’t use sponges, precicely because they trap food particles and are difficult to disinfect and keep clean.

We all have different attitudes to hygiene. My sister is almost OCD when it comes to cleaning, she has to get all her laundry and ironing done the day after she returns from holiday. She refills all her toiletries containers and puts them back in the hand luggage for the next trip. And yet she allows her two house cats to clamber over the work tops and tables, and sees nothing wrong in that.

The biggest threat to my health from hygiene was when I shared a house with 3-4 others in the late 70’s. The kitchen should have had a toxic warning on the door. Yet we all survived without getting food poisoning, only having hangovers.

I’m a Sloppy Joe too.

I think it’s a really good check list, that everyone could learn from reading and following. However, the way it’s rated isn’t necessarily that useful (I guess the more boxes you tick the better). For instance, I don’t get pets out of the way before cleaning, because we don’t have any pets 😛 And I don’t think not always following the instructions on the food should be a negative either.

However, I’m not blaming those for my failing to achieve a better ranking (though Sloppy Joe is the tastiest sounding one). Definitely some good points in there 🙂

I have coeliac disease, if the test were accurate then I’d probably spend most of my life cramped up. I was marked down for not getting pets out of the way first – that’s a surprise, my guinea pigs generally don’t make much of a mess in the kitchen (though the conservatory is a different story).

Temperature probes? Completely over the top, a reasonably experienced cook will rarely need this and when they do (an especially large turkey, say) they will generally know it. Oh, and I *never* check the inside of burgers to see if they are properly cooked. I never eat burgers.

The only message that people really need to take home is that just because there’s no visible dirt doesn’t mean you’re clean.

Lessismore says:
14 November 2014

I loathe dishcloths and flannels. I especially loathe the way that some people hang dishcloths on the tap from which we get our drinking water.

I understand that it is easy to microwave wet cloths if you find that none of them are getting a hot enough wash or have missed the wash. (I myself don’t have a microwave but it may be useful for others.)

Boiling water and a little bleach should be sufficient to keep dishcloths and brushes fit for use.