This lecture was mostly about safe food handling; safe food handling is mostly about not contaminating food and keeping food in a safe temperature range.
The lecturer for these food-safety seminars is Maureen Lee, who has moved from working in a professional kitchen to consulting on food safety. She teaches these classes that prepare people to take the ServSafe exam, she does kitchen inspections for the health department, and she coaches restaurants whose kitchens have been cited for food safety violations so they can get their licenses back and open for business again.
First she talked about personal hygiene; a lot of this was about keeping our hands from contaminating food. You’re not required to wear gloves when you work in the professional kitchen unless you’re handling ready-to-eat food. (You don’t have to wear gloves if you’re using a utensil, such as tongs to put ice in a drink.) There’s a whole hand-washing procedure, and we got a minilecture about fingernails: no artificial nails, no nail polish, nails no longer than the fingertips. Proper hand washing takes 20 seconds, 15 seconds of which should be rubbing your hands briskly under running water, because it’s the friction that really kills the germs. You dry your hands with a fresh paper towel, never with a cloth towel.
There are also rules about consuming food in the kitchen. If you’re going to taste what you’re cooking, you don’t stick a spoon in the pot; you spoon some onto a dish, taste with a fresh utensil, and then send the dish and utensil to the dishwasher. Massachusetts allows us to have a beverage in the kitchen but only if it’s in a cup with a lid and a straw. Unless you’re tasting what you’re preparing or sipping from your allowed drink, you shouldn’t have anything in your mouth; apparently some kitchen staff like to chew tobacco or gum, which is not allowed. These rules are followed more carefully in some kitchens and less carefully in others; that’s why the health departments inspect these kitchens.
Once your hands are clean, the next thing you need to do is check the temperature of everything. We’re supposed to test our thermometers every day by sticking the thermometer in ice water and making sure the thermometer reads 32℉; if it doesn’t, the thermometer needs a new battery. Maureen recommends the Cooper-Atkins digital thermometer we got in our kits; these cost about $20, depending on where you get it. If you’re looking for ways to dispose of the spare cash you have lying around, the Thermapen is also excellent and runs about $100.
There are all sorts of rules and guidelines that start with receiving ingredients from vendors. Whoever’s accepting the delivery is supposed to check the temperature of everything; you check the temperature of the eggs you’re receiving by poking a clean thermometer (you wipe it with an alcohol wipe) into one of the eggs through the shell, and it had better be 45℉ or colder.
For cooked food, you stick the termometer in and look for the recommended temperature. Meat temperature is measured at the thickest part. To check soup, you stir it first, and you check a casserole by sticking your thermometer in at several different spots. The thermometer mustn’t touch the bottom of the pan because the temperature of the pan is different from the temperature of the food.
Cooling food is another tricky operation. The safe temperature range is hotter than 135℉ or colder than 41℉ (45℉ for eggs in their shells and a few other things, like live seafood). Food within the range of 41℉ to 135℉ can grow enough pathogens in 4 hours to make people sick. The cooling guidelines are to to cool the food from 135℉ to 70℉ within 2 hours, then from 70℉ to 41℉ within 4 hours (for a total of no more than 6 hours. If you’re not down to 70℉ in 2 hours, you can reheat the food and start over; if you’re not down to 41℉ in 4 hours, you have to throw out the food. At home, I think this means you’re okay if you refrigerate your leftovers right away and your refrigerator temperature is 40℉ or lower.