Healthy cooking and eating isn’t just a matter of choosing fresh ingredients and fat-free recipes. Keeping your kitchen clean and free from germs, and practicing safe food handling all contributes to ensuring that your dinner guests remain healthy.
In honour of Food Safety Week , here are four ways to keep your food preparation hygienic:
Wash your hands, utensils, surfaces and vegetables – but NOT your meats!
To get your kitchen ready for cooking, make sure all of the surfaces in your kitchen you’ll be cooking on and all of the tools you’ll be using have been cleaned thoroughly with hot water and detergent.
Give your hands the same treatment before you start cooking, and clean them and your surfaces again whenever you handle raw meats or other raw ingredients, including eggs.
If you use tea towels to dry your hands, be sure to launder them regularly, as tea towels can sometimes harbour harmful bacteria. Alternatively, you can use disposable paper towels, though this can be a more wasteful option.
It’s often wise to wash your vegetables before their preparation, to remove any chemicals, pesticides, or other contaminants that may have found their way onto them on their journey from the farm to your kitchen.
According to this article, many Australians try to rid their poultry of germs by washing it, but according to the Food Safety Information Council, this just spreads bacteria from the poultry’s surface about the kitchen, increasing the chances of contaminating other elements.
Use separate high-quality chopping boards for different ingredients
Different types of chopping board are more or less likely to harbour bacteria, depending what you prepare on them.
Wooden chopping boards tend to be porous, absorbing nearby moisture, meaning they’re not always the best choice for raw meat and seafood – try plastic or glass instead, and ensure that they are thoroughly cleaned at high temperatures. If you use plastic, replace your chopping board when its surface becomes deeply scratched, as bacteria can lurk inside these cracks.
It’s advisable to chop meat on a separate board to vegetables so as to avoid cross contamination. Always prepare your veggies first, then your meats. Afterwards, wash your hands and clean everything you’ve used to prevent leaving bacteria to multiply on the surfaces.
On refrigerating, freezing, and defrosting
All of your perishable foods should be kept refrigerated, as the cooler temperatures inside your fridge slow down the growth of bacteria. Freezing food suspends the growth of bacteria entirely, allowing most foods to be stored almost indefinitely.
Just like with your chopping boards and kitchen surfaces, your meat and veggies should be kept separate in your fridge to prevent cross-contamination.
When defrosting food, try to bring it up to room temperature as fast as possible using the defrost setting of your oven or microwave. Leaving frozen meat out on the benchtop can take too long, allowing germs to build up on the surface while you wait for the middle to thaw. Any food left out of the fridge for more than two hours can be considered at risk.
You can also defrost meat by leaving it in the fridge or in a bowl of cold water – this can thaw the food over time while keeping the temperature low enough to prevent the growth of bacteria. Never defrost using hot water, as this can raise the surface of your meat to bacteria’s ideal breeding temperature while you wait for the core to thaw.
Cooking food doesn’t make its taste and texture better – it kills the germs that make us sick!
Different ingredients require different degrees of cooking – for example, steaks can (and often are) eaten rare, as most of the bacteria is found on the surface of the meat. But as a rule, if you’re not certain about your food, leave it on the heat a bit longer until it has been completely cooked through, to eliminate all the germs.
You can usually pick how cooked your food is by its colour and texture, though not always – you CAN eat chicken that’s a bit pink, but ONLY as long as its interior temperature has previously hit 75°C throughout.
Remember though that while cooking will kill any bacteria in your food, it won’t necessarily eliminate any toxins that are produced as a by-product of bacteria breeding. This means that even if you thoroughly cook food that’s been left out, it could still be risky to eat.
And of course, and leftovers should be put straight into the fridge after your meal to prevent bacterial growth.