Every year millions of people contract food poisoning. Every year thousands of people die from food poisoning. In every instance, it could have been prevented with a little bit of knowledge and care. The most important rule, when it comes to food safety is that it is the first and last thing you do. Preventing spoilage has to take priority over technique, flavor, and presentation. Beyond that, there are a few basic rules to always keep in mind.
Though they seem obvious, I bet most people have neglected one or more of these rules from time to time.
- Suspect everything. It might look fresh, you might have caught it yourself, but still, you need to suspect it. Treat everything like it is already contaminated and keep foods from coming into contact with each other.
- Wash before and after. Before you work with any food, especially meats you need to clean everything that might come in contact with it. And as soon as you’ve got that piece of food wrapped safely or on the grill wash everything it came in contact with. This means your hands too. Especially your hands.
- Wash your hands. Wash them frequently. Wash them constantly. Your hands are probably the only thing that is going to come into contact with everything you prepare and since you can’t boil you hands and they don’t typically reach temperatures of 165 degrees F. (75 degrees C.), wash them. A good hand washing takes about 1 minute. Count to 60 if you have to.
- Keep it covered. I don’t care how fast you are the second you walk out the door with a plate of food for the grill something is going to land on it. Bugs don’t use soup. And there are a lot of other things out there besides bugs. Those things don’t use soup either.
- Get it hot. Bacteria die around 165 degrees Fahrenheit (75 degrees Celsius). If you like meats rare or even medium rare you could be taking a risk. Provided that you kept the meat refrigerated and that it didn’t come in contact with anything that might contaminate it the risk could be very, very low. Then again, Getting foods to a proper heat isn’t always enough. Make sure that all cooking surfaces are also brought to a very high temperature before you cook. If you enjoy low and slow smoking, start your smoker off by making sure that all metal parts are brought to a temperature above the boiling temperature of water before you start smoking.
- Don’t store your grilling utensils on your grill. Keep them clean and indoors until you need them. You don’t know what wandered by that spatula you flipped burgers with last night and took a big long lick. Just keep them inside. Trust me on this.
- Be careful with marinades. Marinate in the refrigerator, not on the counter. If you want to reuse your marinade as a baste or sauce it must be brought to a complete boil for five minutes before you can use it after raw meats have been in it.
- Lastly, use common sense. Think before you cook. Think while you’re cooking. Think before you serve. Think. If you don’t trust it, don’t serve it.