Do you wash your meats before cooking because you are afraid that bacteria may be present on the meat? The old school belief passed down from one generation to the next is that the best way to get rid of unwanted bacteria from our meats is to wash the meat before cooking. This belief is unfortunately not correct. The best way to remove bacteria from our meats is simply by cooking the meat. Bacteria are killed off by high cooking temperatures. There is no need to wash the meats before cooking. In fact, washing the meats beforehand is harmful as it spreads the bacteria in every direction causing cross contamination.
The U.K. Food Standards Agency published information awhile back on studies showing that bacteria on raw chicken can spray as far as 3 feet in every direction when it is washed under the kitchen faucet. Were you aware that by washing your meat in your kitchen sink prior to cooking the meat you were actually spraying bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus and E.Coli all over your kitchen? What else do you not know about proper food handling?
There are food sanitary quizzes that are available online to test your food handling knowledge. However, to simplify the proper food handling techniques you first need to understand the three causes of food contamination and how it can make people sick.
The three ways food becomes unsafe are through:
- Cross Contamination
- Poor Hygiene
- Time-Temperature Abuse
As mentioned earlier, cross contamination occurs when bacteria is spread from one surface to another. It is important to wipe down all surfaces after handling any raw meat. If you cut meat up on a cutting board and then chop vegetables immediately after on the same cutting board without washing it down in between, then you are spreading the bacteria from the raw meat all over your vegetables. Food placed next to any hazardous cleaning chemicals in the kitchen run the risk of cross contamination. Spraying chlorine bleach on your surfaces and then immediately after slapping down food onto of the same surface is not a good idea. Essentially you are seasoning your food with bleach.
One of the main causes of food contamination and food-borne illnesses is poor hygiene. Employees not washing their hands enough is the cause for bacteria ending up on our food. Sure every kitchen staff employee knows to wash their hands after using the bathroom, but a chef that touches his sweaty brow before picking up a piece of food is still spreading germs. Think how many times a day we touch our face, sneeze, cough, run our fingers through our hair. All these actions can spread bacteria from our fingers to our food. See how foods become unsafe so easily?
The last way bacteria ends up on our food is from time-temperature abuse. Food that is left out after being cooked in the temperature range between 41°F and 135°F runs the high risk of microorganisms growing on it.
It is important to avoid washing raw meat before cooking and to keep foods away from cleaning chemicals. This will prevent cross contamination. It is equally important to wash hands frequently especially after using the bathroom and sneezing. Lastly you should always refrigerator left over food and reheat before eating. Following these food handling steps will prevent food-borne illnesses from occurring in your household.