Food safety is something not many home cooks have given much thought. That is, until the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Now, most of us are quite aware of the unseen microorganisms that can make us sick. But microorganisms are a constant threat in the kitchen if you don’t treat your food right (this was true before COVID and will certainly stay true even after). Read on to see what steps you can take to keep your food free from the bugs that can make you sick!
Managing food safely isn’t rocket science. However, due to the very nature of the problem, i.e. that we cannot see microorganisms with the naked eye, many of us fumble in food safety purely because we are unaware of their constant presence. So, one only needs to learn a few useful tips in order to prevent a multitude of problems.
Many home cooks are tempted to place hot foods directly in the refrigerator or freezer, thinking that it is safer to cool down quickly. But while you should be getting foods in the fridge within 2 hours of cooking, you should try to cool it down a little before that. If you are in a hurry and need to store your soup immediately, try pouring it in a wide-base container. The larger surface area will make it cool down quicker.
Fresh fish should smell like the ocean. Once you start smelling an unpleasant ‘fishy’ smell (cabbage-like or like ammonia), it’s best to stay away. This means that spoilage is underway and you will likely get very sick once you eat it. Remember to keep your fish cold once you buy it and store it in the fridge immediately once you are back home. Even then, fish only lasts about two to three days in the fridge.
We often hear that foods cannot be thawed and refrozen. But this has more to do with the quality and less to do with food safety. Meat quality will degrade when going through freeze-thaw cycles, causing an unpleasant texture. However, if the food item has been at room temperature for two hours or more, then it cannot be refrozen, as there is a higher likelihood of microorganism having increased to unacceptable levels.
One of the biggest causes of food poisoning that occurs at home, is contaminated cutting boards. The best way to avoid using your meat cutting board for veggies (hello cross contamination!), is to get color-coded boards. Red is usually allocated to meats, and other colors for vegetables and fish. This will help you keep track of what you used for what. That doesn’t mean you should neglect the washing step. Using warm soapy water, give your cutting boards a good scrub with a brush, rinse off with clean water, and leave to dry completely.