Food Safety in the Kitchen: A Comprehensive Guide
Staying safe in your home kitchen is of the utmost importance when preparing and storing food. We don't mean to sound like sticklers, but the fact is that illnesses caused by poor preparation and storage happen more often than you'd think and are entirely preventable.
Since our kitchens can be a bit of a hotbed for all sorts of germs, it's imperative to stay aware of your culinary cleanliness. Here, we'll provide you with a guide to safety in the kitchen and what you can do to avoid making a mess of things before, during and after your food preparation.
Safety starts in store
Before you get your shopping into the kitchen, being more mindful of how you shop can pay off. For starters, it's advisable to keep raw proteins and eggs at one end of your trolley. Along with frozen foods and perishable dairy items, get these items last to keep them as cool as possible. Bring a cooler bag with you so they can be taken home at a safer temperature, too.
Keep an eye out for how your food looks and feels too. When buying eggs, check the carton for any cracks or broken eggs. For fish, meat and poultry, anything that's warm to the touch or smells funny, and avoid packaged meat that has rips in the package, or liquid collecting in a corner. As for tinned foods, anything with dents, bulges or rust is a no-go.
Safe food temperatures
Getting the temperature right goes a long way to keeping food safe. Everyone's taken a bit of a risk before, eating leftover pizza the next day, or bunged hot food in the freezer without letting it cool first; but what precautions should you be taking when it comes to your kitchen's climate?
First things first, if you're leaving food out at room temperature, anything sat out for longer than two hours is going to become a breeding ground for bacteria.
If you're defrosting something, never do it at room temperature – always defrost things in the fridge, some cold water or in the microwave. Just be sure to appropriately clean everything after you're done. Speaking of fridges, you should have yours at 5°C or lower, while your freezer should be set at -18°C or lower.
As for leftovers, place them in airtight containers or sealable bags and label them with a date. If it's still warm, wait for it to cool first, as this can raise the temperature of the fridge.
When you're filling up the fridge, be aware of where you're placing food to avoid cross-contamination – when raw food is in contact with ready-to-eat foods - as this is often the main reason for a lot of food-borne illnesses.
Store raw meats on the bottom shelf in covered containers or sealed plastic bags so as to stop the risk of juices dripping onto other foods. Similarly, cooked or ready-to-eat food should never be placed near raw meats. Eggs should be refrigerated as soon as possible, in their original container, to increase their longevity.
Correct preparation can also play a large part in stopping the risk of cross-contamination. When washing your hands, which you should be doing regularly, do it thoroughly for 20 seconds with warm water. Dry them off with paper towels, don't wipe them on yourself.
Likewise, clean surfaces through the day, especially after you've prepared food. Clean with antibacterial and hot soapy water with a clean cloth to stem the tide of bacteria and germs. Wash utensils as soon as you're done preparing raw meat, poultry and fish to minimise juices spreading to other foods. Additionally, there's a lingering myth that marinating meat kills bacteria because it's acidic – so it's fine to marinate them on your kitchen counter. Avoid this mistake; even though your marinade may be acidic, bacteria can still grow very rapidly at room temperature, so be sure to leave it in the fridge.
It might be wise to use colour-coded chopping boards for specific food groups too as well as different knives, plates and other utensils for meat and vegetables respectively. Since bacteria can get caught in knife grooves, replacing your chopping boards is recommended.
Wash your veggies
Contrary to what you think, rinsing chicken and other meat is a no-no as it will cause the spread of bacteria to your sink, counter and other surfaces. What you should be doing instead is washing and scrubbing your produce as part of your perpetration, regardless of whether you plan on peeling them (a common misconception). This is because the soil and water that veg grows in can carry harmful bacteria and parasites that reside on their surface, so be sure to give them a thorough rinse, the same goes for bagged vegetables that come pre-washed too.
Sanitise your dishcloths
Dishcloths and sponges can become a breeding ground for all kinds of microbes, becoming heavily contaminated in the process. Here's where the contamination can spread to hands, kitchen equipment and other surfaces such as your sink, taps and cupboard handles. It's important to sanitise them regularly in a solution of chlorine bleach and water or a similar agent you can buy from shops. Consider using paper towels to clean up to avoid the spread of contaminants afterwards.
Ensure food is cooked properly
It sounds obvious, but after doing all your prep, and cleaning away anything that could cause germs and bacteria to spread, are you making sure your food is cooked properly all the way through? If you like your egg yolk runny, you may be running a risk you were previously unaware of, so to be on the safe side, it might be worth keeping it in the pan a little while longer.
Similarly, it's imperative you cook your meat properly. Slice through the thickest part of your chicken, or the centre of a steak or cut of pork, to see if any pink bits remain. It's important not to get complacent, food poisoning and salmonella are serious business.
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