Everyone knows that you have to take certain precautions to ensure food is safe to eat and free of contaminants. However, many people overlook the importance of certain kitchen maintenance and preparation steps that ensure an optimal environment for preparing delicious, safe, and clean food. Whether you’re just learning how to cook or are looking for a quick refresher course to sharpen your knowledge on cooking safety, chances are you could learn something from at least one of the top ten tips below:
1. Keep Pests Under Control
It’s easy to disregard the odd sighting of a roach or a few ants on the counter after a juice spill, but these seemingly insignificant problems can add up to a real hassle if they’re not taken care of expeditiously. According to Go-Forth Pest Control of Raleigh, even though you may only see a few of the critters coming out here and there, it’s likely that there’s a major infestation hiding somewhere in your home, and what you’re seeing is the occasional member of the colony making their way out into the open. Finding and eradicating such pest infestations is crucial to maintaining food safety because rodents, ants, roaches, and other pests have a way of getting into cabinets, pantries, drawers, and other places where food is stored.
2. Understand Cross Contamination
Cross contamination is one of the leading causes of food poisoning, and although it’s a fairly basic concept, many people still fall victim to it because it’s so easy to overlook. One moment you’re cutting the chicken breast with a knife trying to get the slices onto a hot pan in a hurry, and the next you’re dicing up the tomatoes with the same knife – oops. Should you really throw those tomato pieces away? Well, if you want to be guaranteed that you won’t be perched on the toilet with a horrible case of the runs or worse, then yes, it would be wise to discard any food that has been contaminated by such a mistake. The easiest way to avoid such mistakes in the first place is to organize your cooking session so that you have designated utensils for raw and potentially hazardous foods.
3. Wipe Down Counters and Sink Regularly
Most germs that cause illness can be found on the sink handle and faucet, sponge, and countertops. A lot of people don’t mind when they drop a bit of food on the countertop, and they’d rather just scoop it back onto the plate quickly than throw it out. Because hey, 5-second rule, right? Well, you won’t have to worry about germs being on your counter or sink at all if you just perform a quick wipe down of all surfaces before getting ready to cook. This is a good before-and-after meal maintenance practice that will keep your kitchen sanitary continually.
4. Cover Food After Serving
Leaving the leftovers on the stove uncovered is like asking for flies and airborne dust to land on your food. Even if you plan on coming back for second or third servings, it would still be wise to use a sheet of foil or a lid to cover whatever is left of the dish. This will not only keep your food clean, it will also keep it from drying and crusting over on the top. Of course, if you think you’ll be leaving the food out for an extended period of time, then it might be best to have a cooler with ice, or simply store it in the refrigerator or on a hot plate, depending on the dish and occasion.
5. Use a Paper Towel Dispenser
Paper towels are a great tool for keeping a kitchen clean, but most of us make the mistake of touching the inside of the paper towel tube with our dirty hands when reaching for a new sheet. A paper towel dispenser makes paper towels easy to access without requiring you to open any cabinets or grab the roll with unsanitary hands.
With a handy dispenser you’ll only have to touch the sheet you’re about to use, and since they’ll be conveniently dispensable on your countertop, you’ll find yourself using them more often, which will result in buying more paper towels, but the trade-off is that you’ll have a much cleaner kitchen.
6. Keep Food Preparation Gloves in Stock
Handling food with gloves is the best way to easily fight contamination without having to wash your hands five times every time you’re trying to prepare a meal. For example, when you’re done cutting the chicken you can simply dispose of the gloves you were using and put on a new pair.
Using gloves not only saves you the hassle of having to wash your hands repeatedly, it also saves you money on hand soap and keeps you from having to overexpose your skin to soap chemicals. Plus, guests will feel a lot more comfortable eating your food if they know it was prepared with gloves.
7. Use an Air Purifier
Most of us don’t stop to think about the amount of dust, dirt, pollen, fibers, and other microscopic debris that’s floating through the air. That’s because we can only see these airborne contaminants in certain lighting. If you’ve ever been in a dusty room when a beam of sunlight shines through and seen the plume of dust floating about, you know that this stuff can be very thick in the air and yet stay completely unnoticed in artificial lighting.
Indoor air pollution is extremely common to the point where it is actually the norm. The thing is, all that floating junk doesn’t just cause allergies, it also lands on your food and then you eat it. A simple fix is to use an air purifier that will help keep the air in your kitchen clean while you’re cooking. Aside from an air purifier, you might also want to consider using fly strips to get rid of any stray flies you have buzzing around your kitchen. You don’t want a filthy trash-ridden fly landing on a freshly prepared dish.
8. Turn on the Oven Fan
Another way to assist in reducing air pollution and keeping the kitchen from getting too smoky is to go ahead and turn your oven fan on high when you start cooking. This should be basic knowledge for most home chefs, but even the most experienced find themselves occasionally leaving it off. Use a sticky note to put a reminder on your refrigerator door or above the oven so that you don’t forget to turn the fan on before using the high heat settings on your stovetop.
Although this step doesn’t have a huge impact on the quality of the food itself, it does keep the air in the kitchen and dining area clean so that guests aren’t coughing and dealing with horrible burnt smells while trying to eat. In addition to being annoying, trapped smoke is of course bad for your health and should be avoided whenever possible.
9. Keep Kids Out of the Refrigerator
Let’s face it, no matter how many times you instruct kids to wash their hands, they’re always getting into something and carrying germs along with them. Giving your kids free roam over the kitchen is like asking for a hazardous food preparation environment. This is especially true if you have younger kids who haven’t yet learned proper kitchen etiquette. You don’t want the little ones getting their hands on raw meats or dropping odd objects into jugs of milk. Use a baby gate to seal off the kitchen and prevent toddlers from being able to access the fridge with their dirty little paws.
10. When in Doubt, Throw it Out
One of the best old sayings that will save you a lot of hassle and potentially a bout with food poisoning as well is “when in doubt, throw it out.” There’s no sense in making yourself or someone else sick just to save a few leftovers or cuts of meat that you’re not sure about. If it has a funny smell, has been sitting out for too long, was dropped on the floor, is past its expiration date, or gives you any other reason to doubt its safety, it would be much wiser to throw it out than to run the risk of contracting a foodborne illness in the name of frugality.
Developing Protocols for Clean and Safe Cooking
Although keeping up with all of the above might seem like it would be a huge hassle, in reality it’s not so difficult once you get used to doing all of these things on a regular basis. You might find yourself overlooking some stuff the first few times, but after that it will be like riding a bike – you definitely won’t forget the basics. Preparing food that is not only delicious, but also safe and sanitary is a simple task so long as you take the necessary precautions and are familiar with the steps needed to secure and safeguard your kitchen while cooking.