Being safe with our food on a domestic level is a topic I don’t see raised very much, so being a professional cheffy bloke who has to deal with this everyday, I’d like to discuss some ways we can be ‘food safe’ at home.
If we’re all going to be great home-cooking foodie types, we need to get this right and pass it on to the kids too. You don’t want to make them, yourself or your friends sick. Food poisoning can be very unpleasant (to say the least) and can cost you money in medicines, doctor bills or time taken off work.
I feel there is a common perception that food borne illness is something that only comes from dodgy take-aways and late night kebab shops. Not true. We need to look at our home environment first. I’m not trying to be alarmist here, on the contrary, if we’re all aware of some basic principles then there’s nothing to worry about.
High risk foods, cross contamination, improper cleaning of plates, equipment and work surfaces, ignoring correct temperatures can all lead to bacteria developing and making us unwell. Pretty boring stuff but you want to be confident you are serving up tasty food and great memories, not stomach cramps and runny bottoms. Or worse.
Let’s start with the Temperature Danger Zone. In Australia this is between 5*c and 60*c. It is the ideal temperature for bacteria to grow and multiply and a great place to avoid storing ‘high risk’ foods.
The 2/4 Hour Rule. For high risk foods in the TDZ this is an easy go to rule of thumb. 2hrs in the TDZ and food can be chilled for later use. Between 2 and 4 hrs food must be consumed or discarded, but not kept for later use. After 4hrs the food should be discarded. If in doubt, throw it out.If you’re sending kid to school with, say, a roast chicken sandwich, encourage them to eat that at first lunch. Try and use an insulated lunch bag (they’re every where these days, thankfully) and pack a frozen juice or water or yoghurt in with it. Please avoid the ‘It was good enough for me in my day’ mantra. So was sunburn. Your ham sandwich may have sat sweating in 30* heat until lunch time along with everyone else’s and yes, you turned out just fine. Doesn’t mean your kids should be at the same risk we were. This NSW Gov link explains further.
Re-heating Foods – Last night’s curry? Tastes better the next day huh, just make sure you get it hot. Quickly, and kept at temp for a couple of minutes before serving. Microwaves are fine but uneven, so stir or at least turn at intervals to distribute the heat thoroughly. Check your food is hot in the middle. Avoid re-re-heating. Taking food home from a restaurant? That 2/4 hour rule began when you were served the food, not when you left the restaurant.
Refrigeration – To ensure your fridge is keeping correct temperatures, use a fridge thermometer. Or keep a glass of water up the back to take the temperature from. Don’t just trust the dial. Your refrigerator needs to be below 5*c and the freezer below -15*c for effective storage.
Made a big pot of spag bol to freeze for emergencies? Freeze it in small batches, otherwise your home freezer can’t cope. Try this snap lock bag method…..
Equipment – Cleaning your cooking equipment thoroughly (including what you eat off and with also) is paramount. Use very hot water and a cleaning agent. And elbow grease. Home dishwashers are great, as long as they’re heating to an adequate temperature. High 70’s or 80’s at some point in the cycle. Make sure everything is dry before storing. Clean out that school lunch box frequently. Kid has to do hers everyday or else.
Cross Contamination – Raw and cooked foods don’t belong together in the fridge. Or on your cutting board. Last night’s roast can’t come into contact with the raw chicken for tonight’s stir fry. Use air tight, leak proof containers. Cover your food properly and avoid storing raw above cooked in the fridge. Wash your cutting boards thoroughly. Avoid mixing old with new. Last week’s leftover pumpkin soup mixed with this weeks ham and pea soup may seem innocent but is potentially disastrous. 9 out of 10 times you’ll probably be fine. Do you want to put your family or yourself at risk?
High Risk Foods – Rather than listing everything here, I’ve provided a link to a University of Warwick page. Not being lazy, but I’m a tradie and this is a University, they just explain it quite succinctly. There are surprises here for some people. Cooked rice for example is one that you may not expect to see on that list. It seems innocent enough, but it provides all the qualities for bacterial growth in spades. Warmth and moisture mainly. It’s so often these foods, the ones that seem harmless that can catch us out. It may seem more obvious to be careful with other foods, raw seafood etc.. so I recommend clicking on this link for a brief run down. Thank you U.W
Personal Hygiene – Well someone had to say it. Wash your hands thoroughly before you start preparing food, after you’ve just ‘ducked off to the loo’, after you’ve smoked cigarettes (if you smoke while you’re cooking with your kids around, I’m sorry, but you can’t be in our club), before serving or eating food. Latex gloves are great if you’re handling raw chicken or seafood, just take them off before you handle anything else. There are all sorts of personal sanitisers on offer these days. Frankly I don’t know how I feel about that. A step to far? Who knows. Scrubbing with hot soap water and drying properly afterwards does the trick anyway. It’s also a good idea to put your long hair up.
We hope this has given an insight into the realm of food safety and inspired you to being a ‘food safe’ foodie. Of course if you think you or anyone you know is showing signs of a food-borne illness (there are many and incubation periods differ), check in with a medical professional.
For a full run down from Food Standards Australia, check out the link below. These are the guidelines we adhere to in professional situations. It’s hardly a page turner but informative if nothing else.
Happy (and safe) cooking,