Its an awful thought, but every year approximately 87 million people suffer from cases of food poisoning. Of those who are affected, there are an average of 371,000 hospitalizations and an appalling 5,700 deaths. Keeping these statistics in mind, it is wise to take care that you are necessarily clean and sanitary as you prepare food for others. Cooking etiquette is serious business as you would not want anyone to feed or offer you food that has been mishandled or cooked in less than sanitary conditions.
Here are some courteous food safety tips to be considered and used as you preparemeals and parties for your guests.
- Think cleanliness. There are some things about cooking that should become second nature to you. Cleanliness is a non-negotiable in food prep. Do what you need to do to insure your counters and cooking areas are clean. If you are using a wooden cutting board, it should be cleaned with hot soapy water and vinegar in order to make sure any bacteria has been removed. Clean your faucets and counters often with anti-bacterial spray and/or bleach. Cover your hair with a net or cap in order to avoid getting hair into the food. If you must use the restroom while cooking, be extra vigilant about cleaning your hands and fingernails before returning to cook. Here's a little trick--wash your hands (including the areas under your nails and between your fingers) with hot soapy water while singing through the children's song,"Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." A verse of this song usually lasts about 30-40 seconds which is about how long you need to make sure you are cleaning your hands well.
- Think temperature. Paying attention to temperatures is very important when dealing with food safety. In general, your refrigerator should be set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder and your freezer should be kept at or below zero degrees. A good meat thermometer is probably one of your best kitchen investments. Remember that chicken (or any other poultry)is safe to eat after the white meat reaches a temperature of at least 170 degrees, and when dark meat reaches at least 180 degrees. When poked, poultry juices should run clear without any tinge of red or pink. When preparing beef, pork, lamb or ground meats you should cook until the meat reaches a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Think dates. If something in your recipe is past it's recommended 'use by' date, don't chance using it. Even if the item looks or smells okay, these are not sufficient monitors of the food item's real condition. It will be difficult for you to tell whether an item has gone bad by using your senses so it is best that you trust the label. If it is expired, toss it.
- Think cold and hot. When you are serving, take care to keep cold foods as chilled and hot foods hot; lukewarm is not the goal. Try not to leave any food, whether hot or cold out any longer than two hours. If you have any leftovers, they should be consumed or tossed within three days.
In the unlikely event that someone does become ill after eating at your home, etiquettedictates that you take a proactive stance and make sure to accept full responsibility. If this was a large party, you will need to check with your other guests in order to advise them that one of the guests became ill after the meal. Be apologetic and offer to assist the person in any way you can.