Food safety 101

It doesn’t make sense that, in Ontario, you can’t sell ungraded eggs at farmers’ markets, but you can sell home-baked pies, bread, cookies and other goodies – which you might have baked using ungraded farm-fresh eggs. Depending on the area, a health unit inspector might check your baked goods at a farmers’ market, but the only penalty will be the suggestion that home-bakers take a Safe Food Training Course.

The Health Units (there are 36 Public Health units in Ontario) provide training in Food Safety at no cost. They encourage food service workers and interested residents to attend. Participants are required to successfully complete an exam in order to receive a five-year Food Safety Certificate. The training includes information about legislation, food-borne illnesses and how to store, prepare and serve food that is safe to eat. It’s not mandatory to take the course. Those $12 home-made pies look good at the farmers’ markets I visit, but I never buy them.

Ten years ago, when I was in the restaurant business, my kitchen staff and I took the Safe Food Handling Training Course in our first year of operation. We volunteered. If you like to bake or cook, take the course. You’ll learn a lot. Here’s why:

Americans break a lot of rules when it comes to cooking chicken, according to a recent study by the University of California at Davis. Davis is located in the agriculturally rich Yolo County across the river from Sacramento. About 65 percent of the cooks didn’t wash their hands with soap and water before and after handling raw chicken and turkey.

If Americans are sloppy, it’s a safe bet to say Canadians aren’t much better. Do you practice safe food hygiene? Do you use the same tongs you turned the burger patties over with to put them on a clean plate? Was it a clean plate? Not one with red juices all over it?

The basics

Wash hands, work surfaces, cutting boards and utensils thoroughly with soap and hot water immediately after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry, including frozen and fresh products. Hands should be washed before handling food and between handling different food items.

Wash cutting boards between preparing different cuts of raw meat or poultry. Use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry and seafood.
Do not rinse raw poultry in your sink – the water will not remove bacteria. In fact, it can spread raw juices around your sink, onto your countertops or onto ready-to-eat foods. Bacteria in raw meat and poultry can only be killed when cooked to a safe internal temperature.

While most consumers are very aware of food safety issues, including salmonella, and the risk of foodborne illness, many people do not follow recommended food safety practices in preparing their own meals at home, according to this study.

It analyzed video footage taken of 120 participants preparing a self-selected chicken dish and salad in their home kitchens. The participants were experienced in chicken preparation, with 85 percent serving chicken dishes in their home weekly, and 84 percent reporting being knowledgeable about food safety; 48 percent indicated they had received formal food safety training.

Cross contamination was of specific concern to researchers:

• Most participants (65 percent) did not wash their hands before starting meal preparation and 38 percent did not wash their hands after touching raw chicken.

• Only 10 percent of participants washed their hands for the recommended duration of 20 seconds and about one-third of the washing occasions used water only, without soap.

• Nearly 50 percent of participants were observed washing their chicken in the sink prior to preparation, a practice that is not recommended as it leads to spreading bacteria over multiple surfaces in the kitchen.

• Forty percent of participants undercooked their chicken, regardless of preparation method and only 29 percent knew the correct USDA recommended temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

• Most participants determined “fully cooked” based on appearance, not with the use of a cooking thermometer.

Just think, these folks knew a video camera was filming their every move. Would it have been worse if no one was watching? Based on the study’s findings, a coalition of agriculture and food safety partners is launching an educational campaign to increase consumer knowledge about safe food preparation practices in the home.  


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