Sanitation and Food Handling
We must begin by understanding . . . there is an invisible menace to your food that could be lingering in your home. This menace cannot be seen—you cannot smell it—or feel it. This menace is called bacteria. Bacteria can already be invading; food products, kitchen surfaces, knives, and other utensils. Bacteria can make you very sick. By controlling bacteria, you will reduce the risk of foodborne illness.
You have the capability to control this menace from contaminating your food, thereby reducing your risk of foodborne illness. This can be accomplished by following a few basic rules of Sanitation and Food Handling:
- Temperature Control
Bacteria spreads throughout your kitchen and onto your hands; onto cutting boards, utensils, counter tops, and ultimately your food. Wash surfaces and hands often.
- Wash hands with warm water and soap, for at least 20-seconds, before and after handling food, changing diapers, and after using the bathroom. A simple way, to make certain you have washed your hands for the proper amount of time is to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to yourself.
- Wash and scrub cutting boards, counter tops, utensils, and dishes, using hot soapy water, after preparing each type of food item, as well as before you proceed to the next food item (see Separate/Store below.)
- Fresh fruits and vegetables, including those with skins and rinds, should be rinsed under running tap water, even though the outer surfaces are not eaten.
- Firm-skin fruits and vegetables should be rubbed under running tap water, or scrubbed with a clean vegetable brush, as they are rinsed under running water.
- Clean up kitchen surfaces (counter tops, bowls, dishes) with paper towels. When using cloth kitchen towels, be sure to wash them often, using the hot water cycle of your washing machine, and do not wash them in your dish washer.
By being aware of temperature, you have the power over bacteria.
After cooking to the proper temperature and serving your family and guests, any leftover food will begin to allow bacteria to grow as it cools below 140°F. The longer food stays out on your counter and the temperature gradually decreases, the faster bacteria will grow.
It is imperative that you reduce the temperature of the food to below 40°F in less than one hour.
Bacteria spreads by cross-contamination and this takes place where you purchase your food, on your kitchen surfaces, as you prepare food, and in your refrigerator. Improper handling of raw meat, poultry, fish, and eggs, can create an inviting atmosphere for cross-contamination, causing harmful bacteria that could spread to food and throughout the kitchen.
- Separate raw meat, poultry, fish, and eggs from other foods; in your grocery shopping cart, grocery bags, as well as in your refrigerator.
- Caution should be taken when storing fresh groceries once you have arrived home. Do not place vegetables on the same shelf or drawer, or below raw meat and fish, as you do not want the meat and fish or their juices to come in contact with the vegetables.
- Do not store meat and poultry in the original packages; repack them in ‘air-tight containers’ or zipper-type bags.
- Recommended refrigerated storage temperatures are:
- Fruits and vegetables at 36-38°
- Meat, poultry, and fish at 33-36°F
- Frozen food at 0-15°F
- Beverages at 53°F
- Never, never place cooked food on a cutting board or on a plate, which previously held raw meat, poultry, fish, or eggs without having thoroughly cleaned the board or plate first.
- Use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry, and fish. Avoid using older wooden cutting boards; they may look good, but frequent use will result in creating splitters, and inadequate cleaning and drying, will cause cross-contamination. Many families will use different colored cutting boards; green for vegetables, and red for meat and fish, etc. Caution should be taken using cutting boards made of glass as they can chip, crack, and break, allowing glass fragments to be transferred to your food.
Food will safely be cooked when it has reached an internal temperature, high enough to kill the harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses. Use an ‘instant read’ food thermometer (available at most supermarkets) to measure the internal temperature of cooked foods.
- Use a thermometer which measures the internal temperature of cooked food products to assure yourself that the food has been cooked to a safe internal temperature. Always insert the thermometer into the middle of the food, taking care not to go all the way through, as you will be reading the temperature of the cooking vessel rather than the food item. Proper cooking temperatures are:
- Roasts and steaks should be cooked to a minimum of 145°F
- Poultry (chicken, capons, turkey, etc.) should reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F. (Place the temperature at the innermost part of the thigh and wing, as well as, at the thickest part of the breast.)
- Ground meat (burgers, meatballs, etc.) should be cooked to a minimum temperature of 160°F. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), eating undercooked ground beef provides a higher risk of illness. The color of the ground meat in not be the reliable factor of doneness.
- Eggs should be cooked to a minimum temperature of 160°F or until the yolk and white are firm, and not runny. Avoid using recipes where eggs are only partially cooked or remain raw.
- Fish should be cooked to a minimum temperature of 145°F. The flesh should be opaque and separate easily from the skin or flakes, when using a fork.
- Once roasts, steaks, and poultry have reached the proper temperature, and have been removed from the heat, allow to sit for about three minutes before serving. This will allow the juices within to congeal; otherwise when you slice into them, all the juices will ‘run out’.
- Make sure there are no cold spots in food (this is where bacteria may survive), particularly when cooking in a microwave oven. For the best microwave results: cover the food, and stir and rotate for even cooking. If your microwave does not have a turntable, rotate the dish by hand once or twice, during cooking process.
- Bring sauces, soups, and gravies to a boil when reheating.
- Reheat other leftovers thoroughly to 165°F.
- According to the (CDC), eating undercooked ground beef and eggs, provides a higher risk of illness.
Refrigerate foods quickly, because cold temperatures reduce the growth of harmful bacteria. Do not over-stuff the refrigerator.
- Cold air must circulate, to help keep food safe.
- The most effective way to reduce the risk of foodborne illness is to keep the refrigerator temperature at a constant 39°F or below. Use a refrigerator thermometer, to verify your refrigerator temperature.
Many of us have been to public restrooms and have used the ‘hand dryers’ that blow forced-air to dry your hands. I keep away from them!!!!! Why you may ask? Stop and think: the air they are blowing water (and soap . . . and bacteria . . . from the person who dried their hands before you).
In a recent trip to Chicago, I was in a restaurant and I smiled as I left the restroom. There was a sign that read:
ALWAYS, grab a hand towel and open the door with the hand towel. How many times have you been to a restroom and observed people leaving WITHOUT washing their hands? Food Safety is in your hands. Good Cooking . . . Good Eating . . .
Chef Demetrios Haralambatos has been the Corporate Executive Chef at Kontos Foods for over 23 years. He is a classically trained chef, historian, food writer, lecturer, and culinary judge. He has earned the title Archimagiros and is a member and volunteer with numerous organizations. Chef Demetrios has been a demonstrator at the I Heart Halal™ Festival the past two years.
Editors’ note: When asked to contribute to Halal Consumer© magazine he stated: “I was honored when asked to join the editorial staff of Halal Consumer, to prepare food related articles for upcoming issues. After discussing with several individuals of the Halal Consumer staff, it is planned that this will not be a one-time contribution, but a continuing series.”