Let’s take a break from recipes, cooking and baking and talk a little about food safety and how to prevent food borne illness. Food can transmit disease from person to person as well as serve as a growth medium for bacteria that can cause illness, but by using proper handling, preparation, and storage procedures, food borne illness can be 100% preventable. This week we’ll talk about proper handling.
Keep Your Hands Clean!
Let’s start with hand washing. Washing your hands is the most important thing anyone who prepares food can do to prevent the transmission of bacteria and illness. When should you wash your hands? Well, wash your hands before you even start putting everything together, and you should be repeatedly washing your hands as you are preparing food. First and foremost, you should wash your hands every time you use the bathroom; after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; after touching garbage or a garbage container; after touching an animal or animal waste; after handling uncooked eggs, raw meat, raw poultry, or raw seafood; before and after treating a cut or wound; before and after caring for someone who is sick; and finally, before eating. In other words, if there is a question concerning whether you have touched or done something that requires hand washing, GO WASH YOUR HANDS!
Now that we have established when you need to wash your hands, let’s talk about how to properly wash your hands. Anti-bacterial soap is not mandatory. If you have it, use it, if not, well, it’s been proven that antibacterial soap needs to be on your hands for at least 2 minutes to be effective, and very few people are going to wait that long before rinsing, so regular hand soap and water is the most effective way to remove any possible contamination. Warm water is great, but if cold water is all you have, that’s fine too. Wet your hands with running water and apply soap. Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub your hands well. Be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, each finger, between fingers, and under your nails. Nail brushes are inexpensive and easy to use. Continue thoroughly washing your hands for at least 20 seconds, which is the average time it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song: Happy birthday to you. Do I sound like a foo’? My hands are all clean now, so no germs pass to you! Now rinse your hands thoroughly under running water and dry them using a clean cloth towel, paper towels, or a forced air hand dryer.
Keep Your Work Area Clean!
You should also keep all of your equipment and work surfaces clean. Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next item. You can use a commercial multi-surface cleaner on surfaces, you can dissolve one part vinegar in five parts water and use a sponge to scrub down the surfaces, or you can use a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water to sanitize surfaces and utensils. Be sure to thoroughly rinse off the cleaning solution, either commercial or homemade, from equipment and work surfaces and dry them thoroughly.
We recommend three types of cutting boards for different applications: High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE), Hardwood (Maple, walnut, cherry, teak, etc.), and Bamboo.
For cutting raw meat, poultry and seafood we recommend an HDPE board. A board that is reversible, with a smooth surface on one side and a juice trough on the other side, is multi-functional, allowing you to use the smooth side for chopping or trimming things like raw fruits and vegetables, while using the side with the trough to cut up raw meat, poultry, or seafood, with the trough capturing any liquids released during the cutting process. HDPE boards are easy to clean and disinfect without any damage to the board, and the material won’t absorb juices and their accompanying bacteria like wood or bamboo would. HDPE cutting boards can also be washed in the dishwasher along with any dishes, bowls, pots and pans you used during food preparation, but never put your cutlery or your hardwood or bamboo cutting boards in the dishwasher. EVER!
Hardwood and bamboo cutting boards are easiest on your knives, and have a natural antimicrobial quality that makes them an ideal preparation surface for general cutting and chopping and, if designed with a juice trough, for carving cooked meats, poultry and seafood. Hardwood and bamboo boards require periodic conditioning with a food grade mineral oil, which is available in kitchen stores or the housewares section of most department stores. To avoid warping, these boards should not be soaked for long periods of time or left in standing water or other liquids, and should be placed standing up, such as in a dish drainer, while drying.
Cutting board materials not recommended are ceramic, glass and stone. Although easy to clean, these materials are not forgiving and will play havoc with your knife blades. What they are good for, however, is working with pastry and bread dough because they stay cooler than room temperature, making dough easier to handle.
Keep your Food Clean!
It’s important to wash all of your produce, even if you plan on peeling them, because bacteria can spread from the outside to the inside as you cut, chop, or peel. To wash produce effectively, cut away any damaged or bruised areas, rinse it under running water, scrub firm fruits and vegetables with a clean vegetable brush if possible, dry them with paper towels or a clean cloth towel, and you’re done. For leafy vegetables, rinse them thoroughly in a pan filled with clean water, put them in a salad spinner, and spin until all residual water has been removed. Place them on clean paper or cloth towels and allow any remaining water to dissipate.
Never wash meat, poultry, seafood or eggs. Washing raw meat, poultry or seafood can wash bacteria into your sink, where it can contaminate anything already in the sink or anything you put in the sink afterward. If you have been preparing raw meat, poultry or seafood in or over the sink, scrub the sink with cleanser and rinse it thoroughly before proceeding with food preparation. Eggs are washed before they are sent to market, so any extra handling of the eggs, particularly washing, may actually increase the risk of cross-contamination, especially if the shell becomes cracked. If you find an egg with a cracked shell, the safe thing to do is to throw it away.
Next week we will discuss proper food preparation to prevent contamination.