Back when I was just a wee Brandon, I worked as a server at a restaurant in Lee’s Summit, MO and was forced to get a food safety card in order to work in the restaurant industry.
While I certainly didn’t pay too much attention in class, I did understand the importance of not making people sick from the food I served them. More often than not, cleaning falls to the bottom of most to-do lists out there (I know I’m guilty of this); however, if there is one place that you should never neglect – it’s your kitchen. I want to go over a few basics today to help you keep your kitchen germ-free to ensure you aren’t giving anyone a nasty bug that will leave them running to the bathroom after eating your food.
The simplest way to keep things clean in the kitchen is bleach. It’s cheap, easy to use and more importantly effective, oh so very effective. I like to keep a spray bottle filled with a bleach solution under my kitchen sink at all times. The ratio of bleach to water is important – too much and you’ll have to wipe the surface down with a wet cloth afterwards; too little and you won’t kill any germs. I get my ratio straight from the source AKA Clorox and they recommend 1 teaspoon for every quart of water. This is strong enough to disinfect your surfaces, but weak enough that it won’t bleach your clothes or kitchen towels. All you have to do is spray, wipe and walk away. I like to clean out and spray down my refrigerator monthly. I also will spray down all cooking surfaces each night after I’m done cooking – this means all counters, cutting boards and stovetops.
I’d like to take a minute to talk about cross contamination because I see it happen a lot. Basically, cross contamination is when you infect one piece of food with the germs from another piece of food. The easiest example is that you cut up a chicken breast on your cutting board and then chop up veggies for your salad on the same board. Now you’ve infected all your ready-to-eat foods with salmonella which requires you to either throw them out or cook them to at least 165°. Instead, the wiser option is to use different cutting boards for raw meat and ready-to-eat foods. That’s one simple way to get your foods cross contaminated and one most people know to avoid, but there are many more instances where you can trip up. What about when you are grilling or cooking meat on your stove? Many people use tongs or a spatula in order to put the meat on there and to flip it over then when their food is done, they’ll take the same tongs and put the food on a plate for eating. Well, all you’ve done now is take bacteria and germs from your tongs, put them on a cooked piece of meat and then served that up to an unsuspecting guest. This is why it’s important to have two sets of tongs/utensils at your disposal while cooking: one for raw foods and one for cooked foods. As you can see, all it takes is being rushed or a small brain-fart in order to serve up a dish of chicken with a salmonella sauce.
Oh, I shouldn’t have to mention this, but I will: wash your hands, people! Before you start cooking. After you handle raw meat. Or anytime you touch the trash, dish sponge or pick your nose. I prevent a lot of hand washing by wearing latex gloves that you can get from Amazon or any neighborhood drug store. It’s a great way to keep everything sanitary without washing your hands 5 times every time you cook.
The DANGER ZONE
There is no highway to the danger zone, instead it’s a long, slow road filled with many trips to your nearest toilet. As anyone that has had food poisoning can attest, coming down with botulism is no fun at all. A big reason why people get food poisoning is due to the so called “danger zone” – that is food being stored anywhere between 40° and 140° for an extended period of time. Make sure your refrigerator is kept below 40° at all times and your freezer no more than 0°. This will keep all your food safe and sound from the dangers of germs. Now, I can see you sitting there and thinking, “Hey! Isn’t this coming from the same guy who told me to put my pork on the counter for 30 minutes to get it to room temperature?!?” I know, I know. It sounds a little contradictory but allow me to explain. I buy my meats from reputable vendors. I can see that their meat cases are clean and that the packages aren’t leaking. I can also see thermometers in their cases showing that it’s colder than 40° and there are clear use-by dates listed. What I’m getting at is the meat I buy is free from contaminants and I practice safe food-handling measures at home so there is extremely low odds of getting sick from eating meat that has been resting on the counter for 30 minutes. Would I let it sit out there for two hours on the counter? Heck no. That’s another story, but for 30 minutes, rest assured that as long as you practice safe food-handling at home, you will remain free from food-borne illness.
There’s a place for everything and everything has it’s place. As somewhat of a neat freak, this statement resonates quite well with me, but I bring it up for another reason: there is a proper order of food storage within your refrigerator. Every fridge I’ve seen has at least three shelves plus a drawer or two so I’ll use that fictional fridge as our guide. On the top shelf we want to put anything that is ready-to-eat or consumable without being prepared. I’m talking apples, lettuce, grapes and the like. On the shelf below that, I put more ready-to-eat foods or leftovers. The bottom shelf is for your raw meats and anything that has the potential to drip onto other foods. Gravity makes this system work. It’s no biggie if you get some water or drop some lettuce on your raw foods, that’s easy to cleanup/throw away. But what about if your chicken’s package has a hole in it and you leak chicken juice (yuck!) all over your apples, cheese and cucumbers? Well, then you have to throw all that away. Be smart and use the above system to keep food safe from each other.
Minimum Food Temperatures
I plan on working up a pretty chart one of these days, but for now, here is a quick and dirty guide to minimum food temperatures to kill any pathogens.
- Fish – 140°
- Sushi – less than 40°
- Beef (non-ground) – cook to desired doneness, I like medium rare so 135°
- Beef (ground) – 155°
- Pork (non-ground) – 150°
- Pork (ground) – 160°
- Poultry – 165°
- Turkey (ground) – 170°
Hopefully now with these simple, easy-to-follow guidelines you will keep your kitchen free of food-borne illnesses and practice safe food-handling procedures because the quickest way to lose friends is to give them diarrhea!