This past weekend I polished my food safety knowledge with the ServSafe Food Handler Program, a nationally recognized training program offered by the National Restaurant Association. I am getting back into the hands-on teaching saddle beginning this June with a Lunch & Learn series at Plain-T in Southampton, NY so re-certification is critical. Thus, on my precious weekend I drove over 2 hours to sit in a classroom for roughly eight hours and what I thought would be dread, was actually delight.
My instructor was a not only utterly professional but also the Director of Training and Development at Culinart, the largest privately held onsite foodservice company in the Northeast. In other words, he knew his stuff. And with three seasoned student foodies, the conversation went well beyond what was on the slides and in the study guide.
Yes, we looked at some basic and obvious food safety principles (that you can also use at home) such as:
- Personal hygiene is number one when handling food so be sure to wash your hands with soap under super hot (100˚ F) water for roughly 20 seconds before touching anything edible; and keep your hair tied back (or under a hat of sorts)
- Food between the temperatures of 41˚F and 135˚F are most likely to harbor bacteria (in other words, don’t keep your food at room temperature for too long and be sure that your fridge is 41˚F or below)
- Use separate cutting boards for plants and fleshy foods to avoid cross-contamination; and to wash those boards, best bet for the home is hot water and soap for a rinse before sanitizing with white vinegar and baking soda, then another rinse
- Always defrost food in the fridge; you can also run it under 70˚F water to thaw
- When cooking fish, pork and beef (not ground), bacteria will crash and burn at 145˚ F (see keep a thermometer handy); as for ground beef and other meats, 155˚ F is the temperature of choice; and for poultry it’s 165˚F
- If re-heating cuisine, you want to bring it to a temperature of 165˚F
But we also went far beyond the goings on of a foodservice kitchen when it comes to the real safety of your food. As I was listening to our instructor talk about all the things that could go wrong in the kitchen from point of delivery to food service, I raised my hand and asked this: “We can take every precaution possible but what do we do about food that arrives tainted?”
Have you ever read Food Safety News, an independent online resource for breaking news about critical issues facing our food supply? What about those antibiotic resistant bacteria spawned by the overuse of drugs in livestock that kill an estimated 23,000 people a year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention? If adulterated food comes into the kitchen, sometimes no matter what precaution a chef takes, it’s a losing battle. If you want some major in depth on this topic, I urge you to check out Safe Food by Marion Nestle, MPH, Ph.D. So your best bet when dining out (or in) is to not only to know your chef but to also know who is supplying your eatery!
Then my instructor posed this question to me specifically (at this point he realized that I was a miss smarty pants): “From my foodservice perspective, food allergies are on the rise. Why is that?” Well dear readers, I will leave that blog for next week. Until then…