You’re in the kitchen after a long day of work. You’re cooking up a storm, trying to get dinner ready before the new episode of The Big Bang Theory comes on – all while trying not to pick on everything in sight so you can actually eat the meal that you are preparing. As a result, your kitchen looks like you have just completed the entrée round on Chopped, as you cook your chicken, steam your broccoli, boil your potatoes and (simultaneously) chop a salad. Don’t worry though; you aren’t alone. This is what the usual dinnertime rush looks like in many kitchens across the country.
However, what you might not know is that this kitchen chaos is not the norm in professional kitchens. Yes, I know what you are thinking: “Of course it’s not the same – duh!” What I am referring to is cross-contamination. Cross-contamination is defined as the “transfer of harmful bacteria to food from other foods, cutting boards, utensils etc., if they are not handled properly.” Believe it or not, cross-contamination is a hazard to be cognizant of from the moment you start shopping for groceries up until the moment you serve your meal.
Preventing cross-contamination means that you will be preventing your exposure to foodborne illnesses such as Salmonella, E. coli and Campylobacter.
Chef Lenny Messina has been teaching at Star Career Academy for the past 12 years. He has over 30 years of experience as a Certified Pastry Chef, and has recently been awarded the American Culinary Federation’s (ACF) President’s Medallion. Only about 60 chefs nationwide have ever received this honor. If cooking as a professional like Chef Lenny Messina interests you, you might want to consider attending one of the Culinary Programs at Star Career Academy, where you will not only learn the essentials for cooking in a professional kitchen, but tips such as those listed above to maintain a healthy, bacteria-free kitchen.
When Shopping For Groceries
When buying groceries, our shopping carts usually turn into an unorganized stockpile of everything we will need for the day, week or month. When you shop for groceries, make sure to take advantage of the produce bags provided by the store! Put raw meats and seafood in plastic bags to prevent their juices from dripping onto other items in your shopping cart. Make sure also to separate these items (both in your shopping cart and when checking out) to make sure they are placed in their own bags. When shopping, put your produce in bags rather than letting them roll around your cart sans bag. This will help protect them from the raw meats you may be purchasing as well as any bacteria that are lingering on the shopping cart from whoever used it before you.
When Storing Your Food
As soon as you get home from the grocery store, it is important to place your raw foods into the refrigerator as soon as possible. Just as you did when you went shopping, separate raw meat and seafood from other food in your refrigerator. Place the raw meat and seafood in storage containers with a tight fitting lid or a sealed plastic bag to prevent juices from dripping or spreading around. If you use a home vacuum system to seal your foods, it is important to clean the surrounding area, the machine itself, your hands, and believe it or not, the exterior of the bags after sealing. Even though you might not see any juices, bacteria can spread from your hands when putting the meat into the bag, as well as to your fridge/freezer door handle when putting the meat away. Think about it this way: by sanitizing the affected surfaces after preparing your meat for storage, you will also be cleaning your kitchen thus, killing two birds with one stone!
Check out this diagram for other ways to organize your refrigerator in the smartest way possible.
Keep Things Clean
Make sure to wash your hands (with hot, soapy water) before and after handling food, after using the bathroom, and after coming into contact with unsanitary things such as pets and children. The same thing goes for the surfaces you are preparing your food on. Clean all surfaces before and after you prepare food with either hot, soapy water or use an antibacterial spray and wipe down with either paper towels or a clean cloth.
Utensils and cutting boards are also important things to keep clean. When cooking meat, make sure to use different utensils for handling raw meat than you use for handling cooked meat. If possible, use different cutting boards for meat and for produce. Even though cutting boards may look clean, bacteria can sit in the hard-to-clean grooves that may form over time. These grooves are a sign that you should replace your cutting boards.
When Preparing Food
Never marinate food on the counter! Always place marinating meats and seafood in the refrigerator in a container that will prevent juices and marinating liquid from dripping. You should never use left over, used marinade to make sauce and gravy (unless you boil it first.)
When preparing fruits and vegetables, rinse them under running tap water to remove the visible dirt and grime. Also make sure to remove the outermost leaves from any head of leafy vegetables before cleaning.
When Serving Food
Unless you are serving steak tartar or sushi, it can be assumed that by the time you are ready to serve your meal, your food is thoroughly cooked. When plating up your meal, make sure to always use a clean plate, and never put cooked meat back on the same plate or the cutting board you used when it was raw. This always tends to happen when barbequing in the summer. A platter of burgers will go out to the barbecue and come right back inside on the same plate. Make sure to use clean serve ware when bringing cooked food back from the barbecue.