Arts & Entertainment

Kitchen Guy: Did You Wash Your Hands?

Chef Jim Gray

Next time you’re in a restaurant, ask your server or the manager how many of the people in the kitchen have been through a formal food safety training course. If even one of them has not, then I might reconsider eating in that establishment.

I’ve been through food safety training, and I can tell you it was the most crushingly boring eight hours of my life. But it was worth it.

Now let me ask you this: Last night, as you began preparing dinner, did you wash your hands in hot water and soap before you touched any raw food? Or this: How clean is that sponge sitting on your kitchen sink? And this: How long does meat or poultry sit on your counter before you chill it or cook it?

As you know, the news about salmonella contamination of fresh vegetables is rife. I for one will not point my finger at the tomato growers (although I wish they could find a way not to force the red color with ethylene gas). Nevertheless, the source of this bacterial poisoning eludes the Feds in charge of food safety and that in itself is disturbing.

The whole point of this is that cleanliness is better than godliness when it comes to the food we eat. It’s absolutely critical.

So here’s your instant guide to basic food safety, sparing you those endless hours in a classroom watching some “instructor” read every slide he puts up on the screen, completely ignoring the fact that everyone in the room is fully literate in English.

Nasties will grow and contaminate your food between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. So make certain your refrigerator temperature is set to 37 or 38 degrees. And that’s also why we who instruct in the culinary arts harp on you to have a probe thermometer to test the temperature of meat and poultry.

If you’re just doing a quick rinse of your hands before you prepare food, that’s a no-no, too. You have to wash under hot soapy water for as long as it takes you to sing the “Happy Birthday” song. Or if you are atonal, that’s about 20 seconds.

Are you drying your hands after you wash on a kitchen towel that’s been hanging around for a couple of days? Use a clean kitchen or paper towel to dry your hands.

When you’re seasoning your food before cooking, are you touching the salt and pepper with your hands after touching the meat? Don’t do that. Salt and pepper are fairly inexpensive. Pour some of each out onto your cutting board and then you can touch it to your heart’s content because you’re going to throw away any you didn’t use.

And speaking of cutting boards, you should use separate boards for preparing meat and vegetables, cooked and raw foods. If you don’t have more than one board, a thorough scrubbing in hot soapy water is the prescription.

The aforementioned sponge on your kitchen sink is one of the most efficient collectors and retainers of bacteria and other germs and it needs to be sterilized. It’s easy to do. You can use your microwave. Or you can throw it in the dishwasher. Or better yet, don’t use sponges. I use stainless steel scrubbers. Bacteria does not thrive on stainless steel.

Let’s make a promise to each other: If you’ll promise to adopt basic food safety rules in your kitchen, I promise I won’t use this space to engage in such pedantry any more.

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