Good culinary hygiene is the first step to good health. It not only protects you from poor health, but also ensures that the foods you cook do not spoil in a short period. Thus, practicing good culinary hygiene has health and socio-economic value alike. Good food hygiene is all about controlling harmful bacteria, which can cause serious illness. The four main things to consider and be mindful of for good hygiene are: preventing cross-contamination of food stuffs, effective cleaning, chilling and proper storage, as well as personal hygiene. Below are some key tips to ensuring good culinary hygiene:
1. Food raw materials and additives
The safety of the food used for cooking is very key! Always buy fresh and clean raw food materials. When handling fresh fruit and vegetables it is always advisable to wash them before using them. Washing fruit and vegies can help remove harmful germs and bacteria from the foods surface. Remember, the “gabbage in gabbage out” effect applies to cooking! So definetely, fresh cabbage in, fresh cabbage out; great nutrition on the go!
2. Personal hygiene and safety
Managing your personal hygiene is important not only to look and smell your best on a daily basis, but also, in the cooking process, it is vital to prevent self-contamination and cross-contamination with regards to food handling. Proper hand washing (under running water) and wearing of protective wears such as food-grade gloves, hair nets, aprons, among others. The food handler must also ensure as much as possible to wash the hands and sanitize in between the cooking operations such as cutting of vegies, chopping of meats, etc. Whenever the food handler detects any form of bodily contamination (like visiting the lavatory, touching the hair or putting hands in the nose), the appropriate cleaning process must be practised. There must also be good ventilation in the cooking environment to prevent profuse sweating which is a food hazard. Long nails must be cut, open wounds must be covered and basically, anything that can pose a hazard to the food (and yourself) must be taken care of.
3. Cooking utensils, equipments and contact surfaces
All the surfaces your food raw materials or ingredients come into contact with in one way or the other must be thoroughly cleaned with food grade detergents and warm water, to avoid microbial and chemical cross contamination. The goal is to eliminate all forms of contaminants (biological, chemical and physical) from entering the food. Good personal hygiene and safe raw materials alone will not accomplish this goal. Similarly, after cooking, all equipments used, contact surfaces must be washed and dried. It is advisable to use food-grade sanitizers. The habit of leaving dirty utensils unwashed for a long period of time and later washing, merely rinsing with water or not washing at all before using them is unhygienic and will likely contaminate food, thereby causing food poisoning.
4. While preparing your food
Cut meat and vegetables with separate knives and chopping/cutting boards. Soak, scrape, brush, scald, peel or wash all fruit (possibly with vinegar or table salt solution), salad and vegetables. Do not wash raw meat in the sink prior to cooking as this spreads germs around the sink area. This is also not necessary as proper cooking of the meat will destroy any harmful bacteria.
5. Food storage
Correct storage of food in kitchens is as important as correct cooking. When storing food in fridges or coolers make sure the food is at room temperature or lower. Putting warm food in a fridge means the food does not cool evenly and therefore can cause food poisoning. Cover your food too, food left out in the open is vulnerable to bacteria.
Store and prepare raw meat, poultry, and seafood away from other foods, preferably at the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Store food in the fridge at around 4°C and do not overfill and allow cold air to circulate. Prevent raw food juices from dripping onto other foods. It is worth adding that the fridge must be cleaned and sanitized frequently; dirty fridges harbour psychophilic bacteria (they grow at lower temperatures).
The above tips are not exhaustive of all the culinary hygiene practices but I trust these are noteworthy. The prime thing to keep in mind is that in ensuring food safety and prevention of food-borne diseases, the quintessence of culinary hygiene cannot be overlooked.