Did you know that Manhattan restaurants now receive a letter grade from the health department? While it’s comforting to know that you can do some snooping to ensure safety before you dine, it’s also a little disturbing when you read about the cleanliness of some of your past dining destinations.
I’ve been mortified to read health department reports of some very popular venues …as I’ve horrified to see some really scary kitchen practices. Horrible habits in a restaurant kitchen, where people are supposedly trained, lead me to extrapolate that home kitchen habits are less safely employed. After all, home economics class has been the victim of budget cuts in public schools. Unless your parents have safe kitchen habits- how would you learn them? How can you pass them on?
Here are some disturbing facts: Center for Disease Control estimates that that each year roughly 1 out of 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases. The great majority of these cases are mild and cause symptoms for only a day or two. The most severe cases tend to occur in the very old, the very young, those who have an illness already that reduces their immune system function, and in healthy people exposed to a very high dose of an organism.
Kitchen safety can be broken down into two categories: ‘sanitation’ and physical safety.
Goldie’s top three pleading points for kitchen safety:
1. Your refrigerator’s temperature is a key to kitchen safety. It should hover around but not go above 40° F. You see, the ‘danger zone’ refers to temperatures between 41 – 140° F. In this range, bacteria grow exponentially and the probability of foodborne illness multiplies. Put a thermometer inside your fridge and check it first thing in the morning, since in theory, your fridge has been closed all night.
2. Wash your hands. Not just when you start cooking, but after you’ve handled food before moving on to another food. This is ESPECIALLY important when you’ve handled proteins- meat, fish, poultry. Soap up after you sneeze or cough, when you touch your hair or skin, and especially when you touch money. I keep a hand soap dispenser right next to my Dawn dispenser.
3. Avoid cross contamination. Wash counters, cutting boards, knives, plates- anything that touches a protein in the raw state. All of these surfaces have the potential to taint prepared food. Equipment should be washed with soap and hot water before anything comes into contact with them.