| I’m constantly amazed at the number of otherwise skilled cooks I’ve observed that seem to completely ignore one of the most important aspects of food preparation – cleanliness and sanitation. I remember one kitchen in particular, where the cook prided herself on using only natural/organic/free range/whole grain ingredients, but thought nothing of putting her family’s health in serious jeopardy by preparing food in an unsanitary manner. I don’t even want to go into detail about what I witnessed, since I haven’t eaten lunch yet – suffice it to say, I wouldn’t so much as drink a glass of water on those premises!
A cleanliness checklist is actually very simple:
So how do we get clean and stay clean?
The most obvious thing is to wash your hands frequently with soap and hot water – not just a quick rinse under cold water. In between hand washings, use of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is always a good idea.
Sanitizing work surfaces may require a bit more thought, but it’s not at all difficult: think of every horizontal surface where food is likely to contact; and don’t forget cutting boards. Clean using any commercially available cleaning solution, following label directions. Make sure to allow the surface to dry. You can also make a very effective sanitizing solution from ½ cup chlorine bleach in a gallon of water. Or use what I do: ordinary 70% isopropyl alcohol on a paper towel. It cleans, shines chrome and stainless steel, and sanitizes like crazy. It also evaporates quickly.
Clean utensils are easy if you have a dishwasher – follow the manufacturer’s directions for loading and detergent use, and use the hottest water possible. Most dishwashers have a built-in heater that superheats the water on certain cycles like the Pots & Pans setting. If you hand-wash dishes, you can still get the job done – hot water, good dishwashing soap, and change water frequently if you have a lot of washing to do. The second step should be a quick dip into a bleach water solution, followed by a clear water final rinse. Dry with a clean dish towel (air drying in a dish rack invites airborne bioburden).
Finally, use fresh ingredients and store them properly. Bacteria incubation on and in food products starts immediately, and causes spoilage. Pay attention to expiration dates – don’t buy a carton of eggs today that you don’t intend to use for a month, okay? And of course, watch out for cross-contamination – you know the drill; don’t prepare meats, fish or poultry on a surface you plan to use again without fully sanitizing.
And one last thing – keep pets away from the food prep area. Cats, iguanas and chimpanzees don’t belong in the kitchen, especially on counters.
I hope you’ll take these tips seriously – if you throw a dinner party, and guests later get sick and die, believe me, word travels fast…