Food Handling & Sanitation - How Are You Doing?
Wet, Soap, Lather, Rinse, Repeat
One of the most overlooked sanitation / handling strategies, in my opinion, is hand washing. Sure everyone goes into the kitchen and gives their hands a quick rinse, maybe even a squirt of soap and a quick lather, but this is not sufficient.
Proper hand washing isn’t all that difficult or time consuming, it just requires a bit of attention and care. The standard method recommended by Toronto Public Health, as well as every professional kitchen I have ever worked in is this:
wet your hands with warm water
lather for a minimum of 15 seconds, taking care to get between the fingers, back of the hands, fingertips and under the nails
dry with paper towel or under hot air dryer (clean kitchen towel is also acceptable here)
turn off taps with paper towel, not bare hands (to avoid recontamination)
Is that so hard? Thought not. Neither is changing a Band-Aid, or wearing a glove over any healing cuts, scrapes or bruises on your hands.
Kitchen Towels a.k.a. Bacteria Cozies
Another big mistake people often make is using that kitchen towel that has been kicking around for most of the week, the same towel you dried dishes with on Monday, wiped up a coffee spill on Tuesday and dropped on the floor and picked right back up and continued to use on Thursday. No matter how good your hand washing routine is, it will all be for naught if you use that nasty old kitchen towel on Sunday. I know you have a clean one in the drawer… so if there is any doubt in your mind about how long it’s been since your kitchen towel went through the wash, just put it in the hamper and take out a freshly washed one.
Work Station Sanitation
Next up, sanitation of your work areas and equipment.
Although a good wash in hot water or run through your dishwasher is sufficient to clean your equipment and kill most harmful bacteria you are likely to encounter in your home, there is another step which is pretty much the only way to 100% guarantee that you are bacteria free. Sanitizing.
Sanitizing can be done easily at home by preparing a solution with a strength of roughly 100 ppm (parts per million). This can be done by:
Mixing ½ teaspoon of regular strength bleach with 1 liter of warm water (multiply as much as necessary). Soak utensils, cutting boards and other equipment in this solution for 2 minutes, then remove / drain and air dry. You can purchase test strips at your local kitchen supply store to measure the strength of your solution before you give your equipment the plunge.
Be Nice To Your Food
When it comes to physically handling your food, I hope most of this is common sense, but here goes…
Firstly, be gentle. Raw meats and seafood especially are prone to bruising / softening, even after death. I know sometimes you want to tenderize your meats, but beating it up or bruising it is not the way to go about it.
Secondly, make sure you are preparing your foods in a sanitary environment. Wash your hands and equipment often. If possible, have a separate cutting board for seafood, meats and veggies. If you cannot reasonably have separate boards, make sure you clean your board well between uses, and never put cooked foods on the same surface as raw foods. The same goes for knives, wash often and well.
Finally, be aware of the temperature. While it is often wise to let meat and some seafood products come to room temperature before cooking, don’t let them sit around for hours (or longer) as this gives bacteria the perfect environment to multiply and thrive. This is especially true when it comes to defrosting frozen meats. Don’t just let sit in a sink of tepid water for a day or two (often done with the Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey). Also, don’t let it just sit on the counter. While the inside of the food may still be frozen, the outside is likely thawed and in the “danger zone” when it comes to temperature (the danger zone is between 40°F - 140°F or 4°C - 60°C).
Proper defrosting methods are in the fridge, microwave, or under COLD running water (even just a very small dribble from the kitchen tap is sufficient, as long as its cold).
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