We all know what hygiene is, and I’m sure we all use it when we cook. But there are some things I didn’t know until I took a food handler’s class about twelve years ago. With the holidays upon us and the high likelihood that we’ll be cooking for company, I figure a quick refresher is in order.
1. Of course, remember to wash your hands frequently while cooking. That one almost goes without saying.
2. When handling raw meat, be sure not to touch vegetables, breads, or anything that could become contaminated by the bacteria on the meat. Especially be careful not to grasp cupboard or drawer handles, or the fridge handle. When you’re done handling the meat, wash your hands extra long with hot water and antibacterial soap.
3. We all know that licking our fingers is taboo, but you’d be amazed how many people do it anyway. When cooking for company, it’s especially important to avoid this almost subconscious habit. With our own families, we get away with it because in a family, we’re more accustomed to each other’s germs. As my sister says, “We all have the same germs. They’re just different flavors.” But when you’re cooking for company, and they’re not used to your germs, you run a higher risk of making them sick. Plus, it’s just yucky. So knock it off!
4. If you’re putting something hot in the fridge, don’t seal it with a lid or a tight wrapping of tin foil or plastic wrap. The steam has to escape. If the steam can’t escape, the food doesn’t come down in temperature quickly enough, and you’re running the risk of growing your own botulism or other food bacteria in your own fridge. If you can, allow the item to cool somewhat on the counter before placing it in the fridge, but not too long, or it can go bad on your counter.
5. Eggs are sensitive. If your eggs are getting near their expiration date, it’s best to throw them out than to trust the date implicitly. I’ve gotten very sick on eggs the day before they were set to expire, so I always throw mine out a few days ahead of time. The fresher the egg, the better!
6. Wipe your counters and other work surfaces carefully with an antibacterial cleaner between each use. If you’re making a salad, and then rolls, and then a dessert, wipe that counter between each dish. But also make sure that you’re not getting cleaner into the food.
7. If you need to sneeze or cough, bury your face in your sleeve. The germs become trapped in the fabric and don’t spread to the food. If you do use your hand, wash that hand immediately before doing anything else. There’s a great video about this here.
All of this is common sense, and I doubt I surprised you with new information. But it never hurts to be reminded, especially at this time of year when germs are having the time of their lives! Let’s put an end to their party so we can continue with ours.
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