Clean food, safe food—that’s what you want to serve your family and friends. But that doesn’t just happen; it takes some work on your part. It starts with the basics of cleanliness in your kitchen:
- Keeping surfaces sanitary
- Cooking raw meats thoroughly without cross-contamination
- Storing ingredients and cooking food properly
- Washing hands before handling any food or cooking utensils
With that in mind, here are eight basic precautions to keep in mind while cooking at home for a delicious meal everyone will enjoy:
1. Wash Your Hands Before Cooking
Many people might overlook this process, but washing your hands is vital before starting your prep work. Dirty hands can contain harmful bacteria that can contaminate food and cause serious illness. Always wash your hands before cooking. Don’t forget to lather for at least 20 seconds (about the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice). Make sure you scrub between your fingers, around nails, fingertips, and knuckles.
2. Clean All Surfaces to Avoid Cross-contamination
To avoid cross-contamination of bacteria, always clean all surfaces that might contact ingredients or food during the cooking process. Dried and crusted food and grease can harbor germs, and you should remove this before prepping. If you season pans, bowls, utensils, etc., make sure they’re clean to prevent contaminating food.
3. Store Ingredients Properly and Cooked Food Safely
No matter how much you wash your hands or clean your surfaces, if your food has already been spoiled, that’s indicative that you haven’t stored your food correctly. One reason for this is that your refrigerator might not be working correctly. In this case, you’ll need to hire a refrigerator repair service to check whether the gaskets are sealing correctly, or you might need to replace the compressor.
If your fridge is working as expected, you still need to correctly organize what’s inside, according to Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) measures. Organization, in this case, includes setting the right temperature, setting your fridge at a constant temperature, and everything inside is easily visible. You also have to store certain items in specific fridge areas. You should never keep certain foods together to avoid contamination, such as raw meat and eggs.
If you plan on storing leftovers after cooking, make sure they’re appropriately cooled first. If you refrigerate your leftovers too quickly, you won’t allow the temperature to distribute uniformly throughout the food. This can promote bacterial growth. You also need to make sure you chill your food (between 40℉ and 140℉ or 4°C and 60°C) before storing it.
4. Handle Raw Meat with Care
Raw meats might seem okay once you’ve cooked them, but you don’t want to handle it right after handling other foods or surfaces that can have harmful bacteria. This is because uncooked meat can contain the same harmful bacteria as raw chicken, including E. coli. Make sure you place cooked food on clean plates before serving them to your family and friends.
5. Use a Sharp Knife to Cut Meat
Using a dull knife increases the risk of slipping and using too much force while cutting, which might cause cuts or nick your hand accidentally. It can also shred meat instead of cutting it cleanly so that you have uneven cuts from one piece to another, leading to an unappetizing presentation.
6. Use a Designated Cutting Board for Meats
One way to avoid transferring bacteria from raw meat to other foods or your hands is to use a designated board for meats. You can use the same board for vegetables, but be sure you wash it thoroughly after cutting meat on it.
7. Cook Food Thoroughly
Different meats might require other cooking times, depending on the type you’re using. Temperature is critical when cooking meat because it can rise to a certain point considered safe for consumption. You should cook your food to an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C) for poultry, 160°F (71°C) for ground beef, and 145°F (63°C) for pork.
8. Use a Thermometer
You can also use a meat thermometer to ensure you thoroughly cook all your meats before serving them to your family or friends. You can leave the thermometer in the food while it’s cooking so you have an accurate idea of how long you should keep it on the heat. Follow the safety guidelines on your thermometer for proper usage, and make sure you cook all raw meats to their appropriate temperature.
A general rule of thumb is that meat should rest for 3 minutes after cooking before serving it. During this time, the temperature rises by 5–10 degrees, making it safe to eat. Once it reaches 145°F (63°C), you can now safely consume the cooked meat.
9. Always Wash Utensils After Using Them
Make sure to wash your cutting board with hot, soapy water and dry it thoroughly before using it again. You can also sanitize your utensils by running them under boiling water for one minute. However, make sure you cool them thoroughly before you use them again. Wash your dishcloth frequently in a washing machine, especially after you’ve cleaned raw meat on it.
Cooking at home can be a great way to save money, but you also need to practice safe food handling. The eight basic safety precautions described in this article will help keep your kitchen clean and sanitary for years without too much effort on your part.