The Basics of Food Safety

Most food-borne illnesses can be prevented, and since food sickens millions of Americans each year it’s worth taking precautions. Begin by keeping your hands and all food preparation surfaces and utensils clean; soap and hot water are fine. Wash cutting boards after using them, and don’t prepare food directly on your counters unless you wash them as well. Never put cooked food on a plate that previously held raw food. Change sponges frequently (or wash them in hot water). Change your kitchen towel frequently also at least once a day.

Make sure your refrigerator is at about 35°F (40°F is too warm), and your freezer at 0°F or lower. Thaw foods in the refrigerator or under cold running water. Don’t leave cooked foods at room temperature forever; the government recommends no longer than two hours, though in all honesty I often stretch that rule. Those are the easy parts; everything else requires judgment. Let me say from the outset that I do not obey many of the following rules, because there’s little you can do about ingredients containing disease-causing bacteria except cook everything to well-done, and that’s not a desirable cooking technique, since it often results in food you don’t want to eat.

Of common foods, cooked vegetables and grains are the safest; next comes cooked fish; then comes cooked meat other than hamburger; then comes cooked chicken, hamburger, eggs and raw vegetables, with which most concerns are associated. To be as safe as possible, you should never eat raw meat or fish. And cook all foods, especially hamburger, eggs, and chicken, until well done. With the exception of cooking chicken to absolute doneness, these rules run counter to the spirit of good cooking and good eating. To most of us, a well-done hamburger is a hamburger better left uneaten; but the decision is yours. As for me, I keep a spotlessly clean kitchen, wash my hands about twenty times a day, and cook food so that it tastes as good as it can. be.

If you or someone in your family is at greater risk of serious food-borne illness—this includes infants, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems—you should take every precaution possible. But this is a cookbook; if you have any questions at all about your personal food safety, I suggest you speak with a doctor and a nutritionist. For the rest of us, it boils down to common sense: Don’t let your kitchen be a breeding ground. Many experienced cooks and chefs are fanatical about cleanliness, and it works; that’s the best way to avoid food-related illness.