The topic of safety in the kitchen conjures visions of cuts and burns. And while I don’t deny those mishaps are serious issues, they just scratch the surface of the hazardous possibilities. Here is some insight into keeping yourself and your family physically safe while cooking, and for serving your family healthy, uncontaminated food.
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Dress for the Occasion
Sturdy, closed-toe shoes are not only vital to protect your feet from the falling knife or boiling liquid, but also to defend your lower back from the pain associated with chopping for an extended period of time. Wear natural fibers, as synthetic clothing has the potential of melting onto your skin when on fire. Loose clothing can tempt a flame, as can loose hair (besides, hair as a garnish is usually met without enthusiasm). And as hot as it may be in the kitchen, always wear long sleeves to protect your forearms from getting burned when you reach into the oven.
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There are two suggestions to minimize the potential for cross-contamination. The most important defense is to wash your hands, with soap, often. Secondly, have two cutting boards—one for raw proteins, and the additional board for all other foods. The potentially harmful contamination can occur when raw juices of protein come into contact with foods that will not be cooked further. And cutting board contamination isn’t the only way to spread tainting bacteria. The dirtiest places in your kitchen can also contribute to this health risk. The first question I ask clients when teaching them how to organize their kitchens and cook safely is to identify these places. No one guesses that the refrigerator door handle, sink, and microwave or oven door handle shoulder obscene amounts of bacteria. Clean these areas as often as you clean your counters.
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Avoid the Danger Zone
Harmful bacteria grow exponentially between 40° and 140°F. This is why it’s important to be diligent about your refrigerator’s temperature at one end of the spectrum, and the internal temperature of cooked proteins at the other. Technically, food-borne illness occurs more readily when enjoying a rare steak than when suffering through a dry, well-done hunk of meat. But if the animal protein is handled properly, you need not worry about food poisoning. You should be vigilant about bringing food out of this danger zone; the soup or stew you had for dinner should be cooled and put into the refrigerator promptly. The guidelines for food poisoning indicate that a protein can safely be in the danger zone for four hours. Take into account this includes the raw chickens sitting in their cases on the sidewalk when delivered to the grocer, the time the bird sits in your car after you’ve acquired it, and the time it sits on the counter before you cook it. This time adds up, so stay aware.
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When a Fire Starts
Grease fires should be handled carefully. Instinct says to pour water on the fire, but this can be a deadly mistake. In fact, the mixture of water and flaming oil can cause an explosion. Using the same line of thinking, don’t use sugar or flour to control a grease fire. The combination of the grease and these two ingredients will create the explosive force of dynamite. Baking soda works, but it takes quite a bit of powder, which isn’t always close at hand. The safest and most effective way to extinguish a grease fire is to smother it. Use a non-glass lid on a flaming pot or pan to suffocate the fire, and always be ready to dial 911.