When I worked in my college’s catering department as a part-time line cook, one thing was made clear that, above all else, the kitchen would be clean. The food would be prepared according to proper food handling guidelines. Taking shortcuts around health and safety guidelines was simply not an option. Close enough was, by no means, close enough.
Cooking for people is, in many ways, a sign of trust. They trust that you know what you are doing and that you always have their best interests at heart. Thankfully that is true 99% of the time. However, I’m not satisfied that we talk about and teach food safety like we should. As more people are eating out more often and spending less time in their own kitchens, there are fewer chances for people to pass on to successive generations the supposed “common-sense” knowledge of how to properly handle raw ingredients, prevent cross contamination, cook different food items to proper temperatures and keep kitchens scrupulously clean.
Simply put, there are two ways that foodborne illnesses can come about in today’s mass-market retail operations. The first is that ingredients, most commonly meats, eggs or pre-packaged produce, can be improperly handled by producers and packagers resulting in parasites tagging along for the ride as it has done recently in pre-packaged salad greens resulting in Cyclospora-related illnesses. As my Mother says, pre-packaged or not, always wash your salad greens when you get them home!
The other is that food, either in a restaurant or at home, can be improperly prepared or handled. The most egregious example of this sort of mishandling came to light when the CDC visited Silversea Cruises’ Silver Shadow and found trays of meat and cheeses stored at room temperature in crew cabins to avoid inspection. Such activity is not only unsafe – it borders on unforgiveable.
Given these examples, I ask and encourage you to take three simple steps to ensure that you and your family enjoy safe and healthy meals.
To the extent possible, know where the ingredients for you food come from and how they are handled from the point of production to the point they reach your table. Only purchase from reputable suppliers!
When preparing food at home, follow basic food safety steps and techniques. It may seem common-sense but you’d be amazed how often people forget the simple stuff.
When dining out, pay attention to the required restaurant inspection scores which must be posted in a conspicuous location. As long as the score is 90 or above, I don’t give it a second thought. If the score is below 90, I read through the report and see exactly why the establishment was docked points before taking a seat at the table.
If you weren’t fortunate enough to have someone, who happened to also be wielding a large chef’s knife, standing over you and teaching you proper food safety techniques, I encourage you to check out the federal government’s food safety information website at http://www.foodsafety.gov. It has easy to understand tips and some great videos that remind us of how to properly handle food. Now, do what I’m going to do and go clean your kitchen just to be safe!