Understanding and properly following food safety guidelines is an important part of cooking. No one wants to make their guests or customers sick, and it can almost always be avoided in the first place if you follow a few guidelines. But what exactly is a food borne illness?
Food borne illness is what occurs when food becomes contaminated. There are three different types of food contamination. Biological contamination (such as bacteria,viruses,and mold), Physical contamination, (such as hair, bits of plastic from packaging etc.) and Chemical contamination (such as from cleaning products, or toxins leached from metals.)
The most common type of food contamination that makes people sick is biological food contamination, which happens when bacteria etc, grow to a point where it is dangerous to ingest. This type of contamination can also come from dirty hands, improperly cleaned cooking surfaces and dirty tools and utensils. Bacteria, viruses, molds etc, all thrive especially well on certain perishable foods such as,raw meats and seafood, dairy products, cooked vegetables and tofu. Which is why it is so important to properly store and cook foods, to limit the amount of bacteria etc, that can grow on them.
So how do you avoid contaminating your food? Time and temperature play a vital role here in the growth of bacteria on food. Bacteria, molds etc. all grow a lot quicker in warm conditions, and the longer these little critters are kept in the “danger zone” the faster they multiply. The danger zone as it is called is between 4C and 60C (or 40F and 140F). Outside of this temperature range, dangerous organisms either grow extremely slowly or are killed of. That’s where time comes in, every 20 minutes or so the amount of bacteria on or in food can pretty well double if it is not stored or cooked correctly. Four hours is the maximum standard length of time that food can be kept in the danger zone in most areas of Canada. This includes prep time, cooking times, and cooling times. It is OK to hold food over 60C for extended periods of time, such as on a buffet where it is to hot for these organisms to multiply, but you should heat food quickly to bring it up past the 60C mark. If you need to cool food down, do so as quickly as possible to bring the temperature back down past 4C where the growth of bacteria comes to a stand still. It is a good idea to use ice baths, stir the food while it is cooling down, and leaving items uncovered in the fridge until completely cool.
To avoid Physical contamination, make sure that your hair is tied back if you have long hair, your hands are properly washed and clean, and that when you are unpacking food products or putting them away, you properly dispose of the packing material. Avoid wearing jewelry especially rings and earings which have a tendency to fall out or slip of your fingers. Where gloves if you have a band aid on, so it can’t fall off if your hands are greasy or wet. Avoid using chipped dinner and glassware. These are all examples of what can be done to avoid getting unwanted items in your food.
Chemical contamination, can occur from several sources. The most common one is improperly washed counter tops and equipment. If you do not properly rinse things you have washed with heavy degreaser or other chemicals, you run the risk of these ending up in your food the next time you go to prepare something. Use Hot water to rinse surfaces really well after washing with soap. You can also get chemical contamination from metals or other toxins that leach into food from storage containers. Avoid storing really acidic foods such as tomato sauces in metal containers, if you do make sure they are food grade stainless steel and not aluminum or another metal. Never cover meats(or food in general really) with tinfoil for long-term storage.. if you do make sure to put a layer of plastic wrap between the tin foil and food product. Natural acids in meats and other foods will break down tin foil leaving tiny flecks of metal for you to enjoy!