The Recipes for Safe Food

By Jyotismita Sharma

From having the right equipment and sinks in the kitchen to preventing pest infestation and washing the ingredients in the right manner, maintaining hygiene in the kitchen and offering food safe for consumption demands attention to small details and sticking to a great deal of routine and discipline

Just having recipes and all the ingredients necessary to prepare sumptuous food may mean nothing for a commercial kitchen unless one adds the ingredient of food safety in generous measures.

In fact, to avoid food contamination, one needs to create a complete safety eco-system in the kitchen. From having the right equipment and sinks in the kitchen to preventing pest infestation and washing the ingredients in the right manner, one needs to pay attention to small details and maintain a great deal of routine and discipline every single day to ensure food safety in kitchens. A small error of judgment in following the scheduled routine can result in food contamination and loss of loyal customers for a commercial kitchen.

In India, the issue of food contamination has high potential of emerging as an unwelcome reality time and again, largely due to general lackadaisical attitude towards lack of proper hygiene and infrastructure here.

“Commercial kitchen requires a minimum 2,000 sq. ft. space for production and delivery, which is missing from most of the restaurant kitchens in the Indian food service industry. It is important for the kitchen staff to understand the issues linked to safety,” said Ashutosh Jha, Associate Vice President,   F&B, R&D & Implementation, TGI Fridays India, an American casual dining restaurant chain.

And can the restaurants in India be expected to maintain impeccable hygiene in the kitchen when they are found wanting in keeping even the bathrooms clean? The answer is no, according to Ashutosh Garg, Director Operations, DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pune-Chinchwad.

But those who are serious in the food business cannot afford to ignore the food safety measures for they know that guests come to the restaurants not only to eat good food, but also to feel good, not otherwise. Taking note of the poor hygiene standards, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has already made clear its intention to make restaurants follow hygiene norms without fail.

Here we would focus on hygiene standards which need to be adhered to while washing vegetables and hygiene standards which are needed to be maintained while handling animal products. 

Washing  Vegetables

Washing vegetables in the right way could be key to serving healthy and hygienic food in a restaurant. According to Garg, vegetables also pose a risk of cross-contamination.

The Food Safety Information Council, a not for profit organisation in Australia, explains that cross-contamination can happen when bacteria from the surface of raw meat, poultry, seafood and raw vegetables (such as unwashed potatoes and other root vegetables), are transferred onto ready-to-eat food products, such as leaf and vegetable salads, rice or pasta salads, cooked meats, poultry, seafood, or even fruits.

But that does not mean one should wash vegetables with soap and detergent. Instead, the kitchen staff should follow the process of washing vegetables with clean filtered cold water.

A vegetable brush can be used to help wash away hard-to-remove microbes from vegetable produce having thick skin. Vegetables with nooks and crannies like broccoli, cauliflower, or lettuce should be soaked for one to two minutes in cold clean water.

“Use only clean potable cold water to wash vegetables,” Jha cautioned, while adding that water rinse method is effective for all fruits and vegetables. “However, some types of vegetables, including broccoli, lettuce leaves, or spinach, often require additional attention and cleaning,” he pointed out.

“However, if you have packaged vegetable produce labeled ‘ready-to-eat,’ ‘washed’ or ‘triple washed,’ there is hardly any need to re-wash such vegetables,” he informed.

For fruits and vegetables that have a skin, it is better to wash them before the peeling process. Also, do not forget to remove the stickers on fruits and vegetables before washing even though they are made of edible paper.  It is recommended to remove them to ensure that the part underneath the stickers also gets cleaned.

However, the whole exercise can go waste if you do not keep your hands clean. Use warm, soapy water to make sure that your hands are clean before handling any vegetable produce.

“Cut away any damaged or bruised areas of your vegetable produce. Bruises and cuts can allow pathogens to enter the fruit or vegetable,” Jha said.

Having different sinks for vegetables and animal products is also an important facet of maintaining hygiene in the kitchen. Similarly, cutting boards for vegetable produce, raw meat, fish and poultry should be all separate. Moreover, you should also keep your counter top, cutting boards, and utensils free of dirt and dust.

Handling Animal Products

It is important to safely handle and store all types of meat as they can provide the perfect platform for many types of bacteria to grow. Bacteria can also quickly spread between the food handler’s hand and meat. So when it comes to preparing any type of meat, fish, or poultry, washing hands frequently is a must.

To prevent the spread of bacteria, it is also important to use different cooking material while preparing meat. One should also be careful about not placing ready-to-eat food on a surface used to keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs. In fact, all work surfaces, not just equipment and utensils, should be cleaned and sanitised after each task involving raw meats, poultry or sea food.

According to Jha, it is better to separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other food products after receiving and placing them in sealed containers/plastic bags to prevent their juices from dripping onto other food. Their raw juices may contain harmful bacteria. The same rule should be followed while storing them in the refrigerator. Using cutting boards of different colours for different produce could be an easy but effective way to prevent cross-contamination.

While handling raw meat, poultry or seafood, food handlers should also maintain strict personal hygiene. They should wear clean clothes and should not keep any wound, however small it may be, open. Practices like proper hand washing, hand care and glove use are as important as reporting illness, and covering wounds.

However, washing vegetables and fruits the right way or following all the rules necessary for safe handling of raw meat, poultry and sea food alone may not prevent food poisoning. One must pay equal attention to other measures such as pest control and using water free of any contamination. These issues need separate exploration.

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