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How to avoid food poisoning hazards

Having worked in many catering and hospitality establishments for almost 20 years now, I’ve always unintentionally compared home kitchens with professional ones, perhaps with subconscious intent to borrow whatever good practice I can. The inspiration for this post came from our previous one where we compare domestic kitchens with commercial kitchens (click here to read the post) and from the notion that despite all the differences, there are quite a few good practices that could be borrowed from how a professional kitchen operates, with the purpose to make your home kitchen a safer place.

What I’ve learned during the years is that there are far too many dangers in any kitchen and home kitchens do not make an exception. There are obvious hazards such as fire, electricity, sharp knives, as well as many others, which if not handled appropriately or in combination with various other factors could cause accidents, resulting in considerable damage or injuries.

And then there are hazards that are not that obvious and could not be seen with naked eye, such as different viruses and bacteria that cause food poisoning. During the years I gathered some good knowledge on how to organise professional kitchens in terms of safety. This post provides a list of simple rules based on the best food safety practices taken from the catering industry, together with our own experience and knowledge (and common sense, really).

Take these precautions for a safer kitchen:

Kitchen hygiene

The biggest infection transfer risk in the kitchen comes from the hands and from objects, which are constantly touched by family members, such as taps, cupboard and door handles, the waste bin lid etc. It also comes from cloths and other cleaning utensils which can spread bacteria and viruses from one surface to another and to hands.

Cleaning the kitchen

Photo source: www.visualphotos.com

Rule 1: Clean kitchen surfaces after every stage of cooking.

Try to ‘clean as you go’. This may sound a little obsessive, but it’s not.

Rule 2: Use paper towels whenever possible.

Not very environmentally friendly but why do you think all chefs in professional kitchens use kitchen paper? Damp dishcloths harbour and spread bacteria, so use them cautiously and change them regularly. And if you think using paper towels is expensive or indeed not environmentally friendly, see the next rule.

Rule 3: Wash kitchen cloths and sponges regularly.

Cloths and sponges become contaminated when they are used to wipe up spills from food, and bacteria can multiply with time once present on damp cloths and sponges. Afterwards the cloths and sponges serve as a vector for further spread of bacteria to your hands, to the surfaces wiped and then to many articles throughout the kitchen.

Cleaning cloths should be washed in washing machine at 60°C (hot wash) after every use, and sponges should be cleaned with detergent and water, and then immerse in boiling water for 20 minutes.

Alternatively use disposable (paper) cloths.

Rule 4: Clean kitchen sink as often as possible.

The kitchen sink should be one of the cleanest surfaces of our home. Unfortunately, it’s an easy one to ignore and simply rinsing it out is not going to clear it of germs and bacteria. Read this great “Apartment therapy” article with a step-by-step explanation of how you should do it properly.

Rule 5: Keep animals out of the kitchen.

I think this one needs no comment…

Personal hygiene

It should go without saying, but it’s really essential that the rules of good personal hygiene must be closely followed in the kitchen.

Rule 6: Wash your hands!

Need I say more? I ought to: before eating, preparing or handling food; between handling raw meat, poultry and seafood; after coughing and sneezing; after going to the toilet; after handling rubbish; after touching animals; after handling cleaning products.

Get yourself liquid soap in a dispenser for handwashing at your kitchen sink.  What’s important is the action of thoroughly scrubbing under running water for at least 20 seconds to loosen oil and grime where the bacteria hide, and washing them down the drain.

Rule 7: Do not wear jewellery while cooking.

Your jewellery may be beautiful, but the microscopic germs creep around, on and under its surfaces could put you out of action for days!

Rule 8: Cover cuts and infections on hands.

Rule 9: Use the hottest cycle on your dishwasher when necessary.

Do this every time anyone in your household has a cold or the flu, in order to kill all the germs and bacteria.

 

Handling food

Rule 10: Use a different chopping-board for the different groups of foods.

One key way of stopping cross-infection is to make sure that you always use a separate chopping-board for raw meat and another for fish, and separate for vegetables, and yet another for bread. Ideally, you will have at least 5 different chopping boards (professional kitchens have colour-coded*plastic cutting boards, each one indicating what food goes onto the board). And replace chopping boards that are split or have seen better days. Read more about how to clean and maintain cutting boards here.

By doing all of the above, you’ll be making a major contribution to your health and kitchen safety.

* Colour-codes are as follows: Red for raw red meats; Yellow for raw poultry; Brown for raw seafood, Green for fruits and vegetables; Blue for cooked or non-cooked ready-to-eat foods; and White for dairy.

Rule 11: Poultry must always be thoroughly cooked or boiled.

The only effective way to kill bacteria such as salmonella is with heat so food should always be cooked thoroughly.

Rule 12: Raw chicken and fish need not to be washed.

This is so because any bacteria will be killed if you cook it thoroughly. If you do wash them, you risk splashing germs onto the sink, worktop, dishes, or anything else nearby.

Rule 13: Never crack a raw egg on a bowl containing other foods.

Use a knife to crack the shell. In eggs, the salmonella bacteria exist on the shell. Eggs should be scalded in boiling water for five seconds before use.

Rule 14: Cook food thoroughly.

When reheating food you also need to ensure it’s piping hot all the way through and don’t reheat it more than once. That’s 165 C for reheated food and chicken, 155 C for red meat and 145 C for fish.

 

Rule 15: Use safe water & clean ice

Ice can carry germs and bacteria, too,. Make sure it is clear, odorless, and tasteless. Packaged ice should also come in a closed bag without drawstring ties.

Storing food

 

Well orginized fridge

Photo source: velokat.tumblr.com

Rule 16: Avoid leaving food out of the fridge for longer than 90 minutes.

Rule 17: Keep raw meats, poultry and seafood separated from cooked food and food to be eaten raw.

Food poisoning organisms can move from contaminated foods to other foods by direct contact. Ensure that raw foods are kept separate from cooked foods. Store washed salad items, cooked and ready to eat items at the top, or in the salad compartment, and raw or defrosting meats at the bottom.

 

Rule 18: Don’t overload the fridge

Avoid storing too much stuff in the fridge because this will obstruct the circulation of cold air and might mean the food is not kept cold enough. Besides, in an overloaded fridge, it’s much easier to lose things, buried under a pile of other, leading to spoilage or may it not happen… eating it.
Rule 19: Check regularly refrigerator’s temperature.

The warmest part of your fridge should never exceed 5 degrees C . Get yourself an easily readable fridge thermometer to measure the temperature, place it in front for easy reading and monitor it.

Rule 20: Open the fridge door as little as possible to maintain a constant temperature.

Think twice what you need to take out before opening the door.

Rule 21: Defrost frozen food in the fridge.

Rule 22: Keep pet food separate from human food.

Rule 23: Rotate dry and canned food products.

Place the newest products to the back of the cabinet and move the older or oldest products to the front. Throw away cans that are dented, leaking, swollen or rusted.

 

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