Keeping it clean in the kitchen
While an increased awareness of personal hygiene, including wearing face masks in indoor public space and washing hands more frequently, has become the “new norm” in lifestyles due to the coronavirus outbreak, kitchen hygiene is another important part that may sometimes be overlooked.
The coronavirus can be passed on through droplets in the air and is transmissible via touching objects that have come into contact with the virus, and people are doing a much better job in eliminating contact by maintaining distance, washing hands and using serving chopsticks and spoons when dining with others.
In the setting of the home kitchen, better sanitation and safer food handling is also necessary and beneficial to health, as even without the novel coronavirus, fresh ingredients may carry germs or parasites that could pose a risk to health.
In addition to the ground rules of kitchen hygiene — keeping all work areas clean and dry, using separate boards and knives and cooking food properly — there are also some tips and tricks to further improve kitchen hygiene and the overall experience of cooking at home.
Handling raw ingredients
The No.1 rule in handling fresh ingredients is to separate the different chopping boards according to function. It’s key to stopping cross-infection.
Raw meat should always be handled on a specific chopping board using an exclusive set of knives, and it’s recommended to have another board for aquatic products such as fish and shrimp.
A small detail to keep in mind is that it’s important to keep the outer packaging of ingredients from touching the chopping board and knife, the surface of which may carry germs or viruses. That means washing the hands or changing gloves after removing ingredients from the packaging.
Fresh, cleaned vegetables and fruits can share a chopping board, but it would be a plus to have a special, smaller board for ingredients with strong smells such as onions, ginger and garlic if there’s sufficient space in the kitchen, it’s an easy solution to prevent tainting fruits with such odors.
Because separating chopping boards is so important in keeping a clean and healthy kitchen, it’s best to avoid asking stallholders to slice or chop raw meat and seafood into smaller pieces in wet markets or supermarkets before bringing them home to cook directly, especially ingredients like sashimi seafood that will be eaten raw.
Communal chopping boards in a public setting are a health risk factor as it’s unclear how the stallholders clean and sanitize the boards, whether the boards come in contact with outer packaging or other things and the hygiene of the surrounding environment.
For example, freshwater fish may carry parasites that are infectious to humans, like the anisakis parasite in rainbow trout that could pass off as deep-sea salmon for the deceiving appearance and taste, and if they share the same board with salmon that’ll be consumed raw, the parasites may transfer. The cutting board and knife in the markets may carry the risk of picking up the parasites from meat and fish, then contaminate other foods if they are not cleaned and disinfected properly after each use, and many stallholders would miss this especially when they are busy.
Another thing that might be overlooked in handling raw meat is where the processed ingredients are kept: It’s crucial to use a separate set of bowls and plates for raw meat, preferably stainless steel because they are easy to wash and can be boiled in hot water to sterilize when there’s no dishwasher in the kitchen. Eggs, which are not safe to be eaten raw, should also be handled in separate containers. It’s also best to avoid buying eggs with a significant amount of dirt on the shell.
Biodegradable disposable bowls or plates made using environmentally friendly materials such as corn starch are also handy in storing raw meat and fish. They can be thrown away after use and won’t harm the environment.
Working in the kitchen requires washing hands frequently including after going to the bathroom, touching garbage, or handling ingredients.
Wearing disposable food processing gloves also improves hygiene and safety, it saves the hands from getting all greasy or smelly after handling raw meat and fish, and you don’t have to worry about cleaning your fingernails afterward. Most of the time you only need to wear one glove on the hand that touches and holds the ingredients directly. Though, don’t wear rubber or latex gloves near flames or other heat sources, they may melt and catch fire.
One spot that doesn’t get enough attention on a daily basis is the sink. Raw meat and vegetables with muddy roots and dirt can leave behind quite a mess and it’s an area in the kitchen with a high level of contamination. To prevent cross-infection, a thorough cleanse of the sink using hot water and soap after use is necessary.
To prevent food scraps from falling into the water conduit and causing clotting, there’s a disposable fine mesh net product which can be wrapped around the drain basket and catch any residual food.
Quick checklist of kitchen spots that are easily missed
Handles of the refrigerator, cabinets
Corners of the stove and oven
Faucet and sink
Food probe thermometer
Kitchen utensil holders
Spice trays and the corners of kitchen cabinets
Small kitchen gadgets
Small gaps under the appliances like microwave
Wearing jewelry when preparing food, rings especially can collect dirt and bacteria while making hand cleaning more difficult.
Drying hands on aprons and clothes, it’s better to use paper towel and napkins when handling food.
Placing food close to the garbage, and in the humid and hot summer of Shanghai, it’s best to store garbage in a cool place and take it out in time.
Mixing the storage locations of tools that process raw meat and other ingredients.
Keeping raw meat next to other food in the refrigerator and overstocking.
Using the same spoon/fork/chopsticks to taste and sample the food repeatedly.
Placing food directly against the wall and floor.
Keeping the food garbage overnight at room temperature.
Defrosting food at room temperature, defrost in cold water or refrigerator is much safer.