Part of being a good cook, whether at home or professionally, means handling food with care and caution because it doesn’t take much to spread germs or make people sick. Something as simple as a bit of underdone meat or improperly washed produce can have very detrimental effects to one’s health. If there is one thing that I can impress upon you it is this: Move through your kitchen methodically and with careful attention to food safety. ALWAYS implement good kitchen practices in everything that you do.
Whenever I go online I find myself a little stunned by many of the comments or suggestions that I read on other cooking sites or groups as there seems to be such a lack of regard for food safety and best practices in the kitchen. I am a real stickler for cleanliness and proper technique and I feel that both are essential when cooking or baking. All too often people overlook these simple but necessary practices in the interest of getting things done quickly or to save time and money but that can be so costly to your well being.
To that end, below are some very common (and unsettling) comments that I have seen come up time and time again. They are as follows:
- “I forgot the meat out on the counter all night but it’s fine, I keep my house cool” – Keeping your house cool is not an acceptable substitute for a refrigerator or freezer which can safely keep meat at a consistent, appropriate temperature. If you leave meat out on your counter, especially unfrozen raw meat, you NEED to toss it. It does not take much for bacterial growth to take hold and meat is very susceptible to contamination. Any meat that has been kept out at room temperature should be discarded immediately.
- “Well, it’s not like I have ever gotten sick from doing it this way” – My answer to that is simple. Count yourself lucky. Just because it’s never happened before doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Food poisoning is no laughing matter, avoid it by practicing safe handling of food in the kitchen.
- “It’s fine to thaw meat on the counter, I always do it” – The problem with thawing meat on the counter is that it’s thawing at different rates. While the inner most part of the meat may still be cold and frozen the outside is thawing more quickly essentially leaving you with raw meat that is being kept at room temperature. Harmful bacteria can grow extremely rapidly at room temperature so avoid leaving your meat out on the counter at all costs. The safest method to thaw meat is in your refrigerator, in the microwave using a defrost setting or in cold water in the sink. Just be sure to change the water about every 30 minutes to ensure proper thawing.
- “I always cool my leftovers before putting them in the fridge” – Harmful bacterial growth can occur quickly in warm food that is left out. Your safest bet is to package leftovers right away and place them right into the refrigerator.
- “I don’t need to wash my fruits and vegetables, they are clean enough” – Unless you handpicked all of your fruit and veggies directly from the farm yourself (and even then they still need to be cleaned) the produce that you bring home from the supermarket is generally filthy. That beautiful orange from Florida that you’re about to bite into has been picked by a farmer and placed in a dirty crate or bag, has been processed for packaging, stored on a truck, transported, unloaded in a supermarket warehouse and then touched by employees stocking the shelves and customers picking through the fruit. Talk about manhandling! Protect yourself by thoroughly washing your produce in cold water or even better, use a simple vinegar wash. To make a vinegar wash -Combine 3 parts water to 1 part vinegar in a large bowl and soak your fruit and veggies. The vinegar wash will help to remove germs, pesticides, wax, and other icky grime.
- “I love to use the leftover marinade for serving” – This one is an absolute NO-NO. Leftover marinade harbors a ton of bacteria and germs from the raw meat and should never be served alongside your cooked meal. If you want to serve extra marinade on the side, either make a smaller batch for serving or reserve some marinade before adding the meat to it.
- “I washed my hands before I started cooking, I don’t need to keep re-washing them” – Your hands can be a breeding ground for germs so when you’re cooking be sure to wash them and wash them often, especially when handling raw meat. Remember, there is no such thing as washing your hands too much while cooking. The cleaner your hands, the safer the food preparation.
- “I rinsed off the cutting board, it’s clean enough to use again” – Rinsing and washing are two very different practices. You should always scrub your cutting boards with hot, soapy water but even better, run them through a cycle in the dishwasher. I have at least 6-7 plastic cutting boards in my kitchen so that I always have a clean one ready to go without having to stop and wash them along the way. I also keep separate cutting boards for meat to avoid any possible cross contamination with other foods.
- “It’s not bad, I tasted it and it smells and tastes fine” – Just because something smells and tastes fine does not mean it hasn’t gone bad. Sometimes the bacterial growth is not obvious enough for you to taste or smell however, it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Instead of relying on your senses, use tried and true safe kitchen practices for storing, prepping, cooking and keeping leftovers. For reference, most leftovers should be discarded within just a few days, especially foods like homemade tomato sauce which can quickly mold due to its high moisture content and lack of preservatives.
- “I use the same serving platter for the cooked meat that held the raw meat, it’s no big deal” – But alas, it is in fact a big deal. You do not want to ever cross contaminate your meal by introducing raw meat juices. Always place your cooked foods on a clean platter or surface. If you hate making extra work for yourself by using multiple platters or dishes try this little trick. Cover your platter with plastic wrap before placing the raw meat on top then simply remove the plastic wrap when you’re ready to serve and you will have a nice, clean surface for your cooked meat or other foods.
The above are just a few examples of comments I’ve heard or read time and time again however, there are countless other examples of unsafe food practices out there. The best thing that you can do is to make every effort to practice safe and healthy habits in the kitchen and when in doubt, err on the side of caution and don’t take the risk. It’s far too easy to get sick from food and so often it can be avoided by following just a few simple safety precautions. Check out the links below for more useful information and tips!