Well there’s a little hangover from my geeky coding days. I’m sure there are many more of those, but we are – for better or worse – the sum of our past experiences. So here goes…
Note that most of the information in this post is derived from Modernist Cuisine: The Art of Science and Cooking. Volume 1: History and Fundamentals. Nathan Myhrvold with Chris Young and Maxime Bilet. pp 191, 196-207.
Nature / Nurture
At home we cook to nourish and nurture our nearest and dearest. Bad food can, unfortunately, inflict pain and suffering on us and those we love. I think it’s our first priority to make sure that the food we produce in our kitchens is safe and wholesome, thereafter tasty, and then all the other things we’d like it to be (entertaining, nostalgic, impressive, comforting).
Beware the Poop
According to Philip Tierno, a leading immunologist and microbiologist, 80% of foodborne illness is caused by faecal contamination, and proper kitchen hygiene can prevent most of this. That’s right folks, a clean kitchen and proper handling avoids poop in your food (and excessive pooping by those you feed). This is not just an issue for commercial kitchens. Tierno estimates that between 50 and 80 percent of all foodborne illness is transmitted in the home.
Top 10 Tips
I’ll delve into some kitchen safety science in later posts, but here are my Top 10 tips for food safety and hygiene.
- Manage risk sensibly by being informed.
All foods carry some risk, thus the only way to avoid all risk is to eat nothing at all. Don’t overcook meat because you’re afraid of contamination and then serve it with a raw salad that might be even more dangerous.
- Don’t cook for other people when you are feeling ill.
We want to spread goodness and cheer from our kitchens, not germs and disease. This is an expensive lesson that Noma, the top rated restaurant in the world, learnt recently. Sick people should eat good food, not prepare it.
- Wash your hands.
Be obsessive. Every time they may be contaminated, wash your hands, even if this is 20 times a day. Wash them properly with soap for long enough, about 30 seconds, making sure you wash your thumb and wrists. Use a nailbrush, like a surgeon, to get the junk out from under your nails. Because this is so important, I’ll add a whole post about washing hands later. Dry your hands with paper towels or an air dryer.
- Use paper towels.
Your roll of paper towels is the most important tool in your fight against bacteria. Side towels and dishtowels should only be used as potholders. Even better, use a dedicated potholder. Use single use paper towels to dry your hands, to touch contaminated items (like taps, door handles and dustbin lids) and to wipe down surfaces. Buy towels made from sustainable and recycled materials to keep it eco-friendly.
- Banish the ‘lappie’*.
Bacteria can multiply at an alarming rate on cloths and sponges. When a cloth has been used once, consider it contaminated. Lots of cross-contamination in the kitchen is perpetrated by the nasty little cloth.
- Treat eggs like raw meat (or use pasteurised).
The rear end of a chicken has only one opening. Eggs emerge contaminated with faecal matter and with an especially high risk of Salmonella. Use pasteurised eggs whenever possible. These can also then safely be served uncooked or semi-cooked. If the eggs aren’t pasteurised, consider the shell contaminated, so don’t use your hands to separate eggs after holding and cracking them open.
- Treat vegetables with the same respect.
Vegetables are sometimes more dangerous than meat. Many fertilisers, especially from organic farms, contain faecal matter. Most recent contamination outbreaks had unwashed vegetables and herbs as their source.
- Never put hot food in the fridge or freezer.
Putting hot food in the fridge or freezer will raise the internal temperature into the range that allows bacteria to multiply.
- Be a label-queen.
Label all containers put into the fridge or freezer. Indicate what is inside and include the date. Label spray bottles and jars so that you don’t, for instance, confuse the 1% chlorine solution with the sterilised water spray bottle.
- Sterilise the sink and sponge.
The sink and the sponge are the places in the kitchen that contain the most bacteria. Sterilise the sink with a chlorine solution. To sterilise a sponge, after washing it place in the microwave oven on 100% power for 1 minute.
*‘Lappie’ is Afrikaans for a small cloth.
Hygiene and Safety Products
Double-ply paper towels
Eva Solo Soap Dispenser, Stainless Steel
R895 in satin steel
R900 in mirror polished steel
Joseph Joseph Index Advance Chopping Board Set
Brabantia Kitchen Roll Holder with Automatic Roll Stop