The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has stated that hand washing is the single most important way to prevent the spread of infection. It is the single most important thing you can do to help keep your food safe.
Personal hygiene plays a huge roll in commercial kitchens, and is one of the single most important things that inspectors look at when they come in our restaurants. Bacteria just love us. We are warm, moist and provide a great place for it grow. Our job is to make it so we are as least friendly as possible.
Of the three forms of contaminations that can occur bacterial, chemical, and physical, two are directly caused by humans and their hygiene.
Bacterial can be prevented by good handwashing practices and overall good sanitation around the kitchen, of which I provided some below. Our goal is to minimize what bacteria grows on us, where, and for how long. To do this, aprons are a barrier between us and food. Not only are they stylish, and save our clothes from a splatter, they give a break between us and our foods. Never use your apron to wipe your hands. If you see this, it is actually a big no no, and I have left restaurants when I see cooks with dirty, nasty aprons. It is a sure sign of poor hygiene. Another thing to do is remove your rings. I had the opportunity to look at my wedding band, plain and simple enough, under a miscroscope, even after I had washed my hands, and it was awash with little bacteria. Gross!
Physical contamination occurs whenever something falls into the food and is given to a guest. This has happened if you ever found a piece of plastic in your salad, for instance. Human hair and other things can cause this, so always cook with your hair pulled back as best as possible. Keep things that might fall in food away from where you are cooking. A great example is a pot rack right over the stove that isn’t clean, but gathers dust, which falls into your foods. NOT good eats! If you ever break a glass near food, throw out everything nearby. It may cost money, but do it, better that than to eat a piece! I recommend some nice plastic wine glasses for the chef!
Chemical is pretty much like it says. The most common way for this to happen is if some soap is not rinsed off a glass, or something spills and splashes into the food being prepared. Always keep anything non-edible and poisonous away from food.
In commercial kitchens we are required to have hand washing sinks where ever food is prepared. This sink is solely for the purpose of washing hands. Just in case you were never taught how in grade school, lets run a refresher!
- Always use water as hot as you can stand
- Remove any rings and from your hands (but you should take these off anyways!)
- Use a good anti-bacterial soap.
- Wash your hands, being sure to get every where you can, don’t forget under the fingernails.
- Wash them for as long as it takes to sing on verse of Row, Row, Row your boat.
- Rinse thoroughly
- Use a disposable towel to dry your hands, then use that towel to turn off the water. If you don’t, you will just re-infect you nice clean hands!!
So now you know how, you need to know when. Frequently is the word here. Any time you switch from a protein is a good starter. Wash your knife, hands and cutting board, and you are good. Never go from a raw product to a cooked product, or ready to eat product, without washing your hands.
Always wash your hands before cooking, after you touch any part of your body, and especially after smoking.
We will get more into cutting boards in a future article, but one thing is sure, wash them in between uses well. scrub them and use a bleach solution, especially when cutting proteins like chicken and pork. I even go as far as using a separate board for veg and meats.
Keep your equipment clean as much as possible. Make sure to wipe it down after each use. A good example is the underside of my stand mixer that gets splattered all the time. It is also a place where bacteria will thrive, and give that we like to live in the same temperature zone as bacteria, they will grow rapidly.
Use disposable or single use towels whenever possible. Chlorox singles are a great solution for quick spills, especially juices of things.
THE FOOD ITSELF
Always wash your produce and be sure to use a brush on heavy skinned vegetables and fruits. The e coli bacteria has actually been known to spread from a mellon husk because it was not washed, to the inside flesh as a result of cutting though the contaminated skin. There are washes available online that are made specifically for this purpose.