If you want to prevent heart disease or to improve your heart-related lab values, it’s time you get comfortable in the kitchen. Before you start cooking, let’s make sure you know how to cook safely for yourself and the people you cook for. I’m talking about preventing food poisoning caused by uncooked food or the spread of germs, keeping hair and non-edibles out of food, and avoiding cross-contamination. You can avoid these scenarios by following the five tips below.
Fail #1: Not Washing Your Hands
Whether you know it or not, you are always touching things. Your face, doorknobs, clothes, garbage, phone, hair, pimples, remote controls, keyboards, cash, keys, and the list goes on. Not to mention…the restroom! So at any given time, your hands can be physically dirty or carrying harmful bacteria, which can be transferred to the food you handle.
Washing your hands is one of the best ways to prevent food poisoning. Before cooking or preparing food, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Raw meat also carries bacteria, so wash your hands after handling it.
Fail #2: Physical Contaminants
One time in second grade, it was lunchtime. I ate a spoonful of mashed potatoes, felt something unpleasant, and pulled out a strand of curly, white hair. I looked at it for a while, not understanding what it was and how it got there. I felt the ghost of the hair in my mouth for days, and, once in an unfortunate blue moon, I will feel it again.
Don’t let the suffering occur. Tie your hair back before cooking and, better yet, wear a hat as well. Have a beard? Use a beard cover!
Aside from hair, nails can be problematic. They carry dirt and debris, so keep them trimmed and unpainted. Nail polish and fake nails can crack and go into the food you’re serving, so avoid wearing polish and artificial nails. If you desire manicured nails, wear disposable gloves (after washing your hands) while you cook. Also, take off loose jewelry, so it doesn’t fall into the food.
Fail #3: Serving Undercooked Meat
In the great words of Gordon Ramsay, “Why didn’t the chicken cross the road? Because you didn’t [bleep]-ing cook it!”
If you don’t already have one, get yourself a food thermometer right now and print the USDA’s Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart. Different bacteria are found on different foods, and they die at various temperatures. The chart tells you precisely what internal temperature your protein should reach to be safe for consumption. When checking the temperature, penetrate to the middle of the thickest part of the meat.
Fail #4: Cross-Contamination
Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria spread from one area to another. For example, slicing a raw chicken breast on a cutting board, then immediately using the same board and knife to cut fresh vegetables for a salad. Another scenario: I witnessed someone marinating raw chicken in a container, then he tried to use the same marinade to serve over cooked chicken. I stopped him in time! The marinade is contaminated with raw chicken juices and should NOT be served over prepared foods.
Make it easy. Get yourself two cutting boards of different colors, and dedicate one to produce and the other for raw proteins. If you only have one board to work with, prioritize your prepping by prepping produce first, then raw meats. Wash, clean, and sanitize the board afterward.
Fail #5: Thawing Protein at Room Temperature
Raw protein should always be stored in the fridge or freezer to slow the growth of bacteria. Since bacteria grow the fastest between 41 and 135 degrees F, never store raw protein at room temperature. For frozen proteins, there are a few safe defrosting methods you can use.
Plan ahead and thaw in the fridge by placing it in a shallow bowl and storing it on the bottom shelf of your fridge two days before cooking it. The bowl will catch drippings, and using the bottom shelf will prevent cross-contamination since it’s stored away from other foods in the fridge.
If you are on a time crunch, microwave it in a glass or ceramic container or submerge it in a pot under cold, running water until it softens. Do not submerge the frozen protein in hot or room temperature water. You run the risk of bacteria growing at unsafe temperatures.
Avoiding these kitchen fails will ensure you cook and serve food safe that’s safe for you and your loved ones. Start practicing these methods whenever you cook, and they will eventually become second nature! Do you have another kitchen fail you want to mention? Share it in the comments below.
Happy (and safe) cooking!
Wondering what heart-healthy ingredients you can have on-hand in your pantry? Check out this blog for 8 essentials to add to your shopping list: The Costco Shopper’s Guide to Heart-Healthy Pantry Essentials