Food Safety 101

Looked at the national weather map and saw that, with few exceptions, the cool seats in the US right now are in the 80s, with lots in the 90s and 100s – Yikes!

Got me to thinking about The Number One thing we stress each and every day in restaurant work – Food Safety. While it’s a must in the business, it’s all too often lacking at home, so I thought we’d better revisit the ground rules and spell ‘em out in big letters. You can and should print this one and stick it to the fridge with one of those goofy magnets.

The Golden Rules

1. Keep it ALL clean! Wash your hands with hot, soapy water, actively, for at least 20 seconds. Do it before and after you work with food that has greater potential for bacteria, like meat, poultry and fish, before you move on to prepping something else. Wash and sanitize your cutting boards (Use a mild bleach solution on those – They’re semi-porous, so you really need to pay attention to cleaning them!), knives, and anything else that touched those potentially high risk foods before you prep something else with them. Does your sponge stink? Big clue – Toss it and use a fresh one; same goes for kitchen towels.

2. Don’t defrost or marinate at room temp.
Ever… Best practice is to defrost in the fridge. If you must defrost really quickly, fill a bowl big enough to hold what you’re working with the coldest water you can get from your tap, immerse the food in the water and let it run as low as you can get it until it’s ready. NOTE: If, like it is here right now, you cannot get water colder than 70º F, do NOT use this method, period!

3. Use your senses and respect the Nasties.
When food spoils, is it dangerous? The answer is, not always but maybe, so err to the side of caution. Bacteria like the same things we do, from food to comfy conditions; keep that always in mind. When food spoils, rots, etc, it looks, smells, tastes and feels off – Respect your senses and let it go if it ain’t right – I can guarantee you won’t get sick of you don’t eat it, eh? Bacteria need pretty specific conditions to thrive, and those have to do with temperature, time, moisture and PH level of the things they live on, AKA, our food. Know and consider the food you’re cooking and storing in regards to those attributes and act accordingly – Use the section of your fridge meant for butter, cheese, eggs, veggies and fruit – Modern fridges really can help control moisture levels as well as temp, so allow them to do their thing.

4. Understand and Respect the Food Temperature Danger Zone, and the safe handling practices associated with such. Bacteria love temps between 40º F and 140º F, so naturally, we want to strictly limit food from hanging out in that range. The mantra is ‘Keep cold food cold and hot food hot,’ and yes, it is that simple. Couple temp with time, and you’re ahead of the curve – Don’t let anything hang in the zone for longer than 60 minutes, and that’s a total time – So keep track, do the math, and between shopping, prep, service and leftovers, keep to the rules, (Yes, I said shopping – Think about it – You buy a steak, and by the time you get it home and in the fridge, how long has it been in your buggy and car, AKA, the danger zone? At least 20 minutes and probably more – Do NOT forget that when you’re working with it thereafter!

165°F+ – Most bacteria die within seconds
141°F to 164°F – Safe range for holding hot foods. Bacteria aren’t killed, but don’t multiply.
40°F to 140°F – Food Temperature Danger Zone! Bacteria thrive and multiply. Perishable foods spend NO MORE than one hour here!
33°F to 39°F – Fridge range. Bacteria aren’t killed, but they multiply relatively slowly. Food is safe here for a limited time.
32°F – Freezer zone. Bacteria aren’t killed but don’t multiply.

5. Use a thermometer and cook smart!
You’ve read herein where I write about cooking to temperature, not to time; if you ain’t using a thermometer, and you’re not a seasoned cooking pro, how do you know what’s at what? You don’t… Buy and use a good cooking thermometer as well as a couple little, cheap instant read dudes. The top end of the Food Temperature Danger Zone, 140º F is not the temp at which bacteria die, it’s just the point at which they more or less stop multiplying. You need 165º F to kill most things that can hurt ya, like salmonella and e. coli, and that’s 165º F internal temperature – No thermometer, no sure, no good…

6. Store and reuse smartly.
Put leftover proteins in a solid container, or wrap them really well, and put ‘em down low in the fridge where other stuff won’t get potentially dripped on. When reserving cold food, remember that Golden Hour; once time has elapsed, let it go, Luke… When reheating hot food, get it back up above 165º F internal temperature before you serve it, and, sad as it may seem, you only get one shot at that if you’re eating smart – No second reheats – So plan, portion and cook accordingly.

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