Katie Learns to Cook: Chapter 2

July 1, 2012

Its Sunday! Which means its time for another session of “Katie Learns to Cook”, where I work through the chapters in my massive culinary arts textbook with you! If you missed my summary of Chapter one, you can find it here or in the designated page on the right! This week we dive into Chapter 2, and its a doozy!


This week’s chapter was all about Food Safety and Sanitation.  I’ve broken the chapter up into two parts, because it’s a fairly hefty chapter with lots of numbers and information.  But I’ll do my best to simplify it!

There are a few vocab words that I found to be especially relevant for the chapter and were the words that defined sanitation (the creation and maintenance of areas that are able to prevent contamination) , contamination (the presence of substances that can be harmful to your health) and Potentially Hazardous Foods or PHFs (a fairly self explanatory set of words, but these are the foods that are most likely to harbor biological contaminants, especially bacteria, and can include foods from any animal source, plants and garlic mixed with oils).

Everyone knows that personal hygiene, especially when cooking for yourself or others is pretty important.  But one of the most interesting (and scary!) points in this chapter to me was the idea that in most cases, the place we feel most comfortable eating food from, our kitchen, is the one place that would RARELY ever pass a health food inspection.  After reading this point and others throughout the chapter, I realized how important it is to have a general knowledge of the kind of things that can go wrong when you’re preparing, storing or serving foods and more importantly, how to PREVENT them.

There are two general ways our food can get contaminated, direct contamination, where the bad stuff is actually in the food itself and can include things like bacteria and fungi.  Contaminants that need to be transported in order to cause an issue are called cross-contaminants and unfortunately, people who prepare and handle the food are usually the ones to blame for this, which is why sanitation is so important!

Today I’ll be talking about direct contamination, of which there are biologic contaminants, chemical and then physical contaminants.  So lets take a closer look…

Biologic Contaminants:   Included in this category are things like bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi.  Bacteria were one of the most extensively covered contaminants in the chapter and the take home message about these guys are that they require certain conditions to grow: food, temperature, time, moisture, pH balance and atmosphere.

 I’ll highlight one of the most interesting (to me) parts about bacteria and that is the idea of how to control the temperature  of foods to prevent contamination.   The bacteria that most commonly cause food-borne illnesses tend to like temperatures anywhere between 60oF and 120oF.  Not a small range.  That’s why the FDA has defined what is known as the temperature danger zone.  A range of temperatures that are most dangerous for foods to sit at for extended periods of time.  Wisely (in my opinion) the FDA broadened this range from the above mentioned to 40 and 140 degrees F, in order to best prevent the growth of bacteria colonies.  Simplest way to remember it?  A direct quote from the text “Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold” aka the “time and temperature principle”.  There are a lot of rules about how its best to warm up, thaw or cool your foods, a lot of which aren’t always practical in the household kitchen, but things like never thawing at room temperature or storing your cooked foods above your raw foods in the fridge to avoid any potential cross-contaminations are good to remember.

As for the remaining biological contaminants, parasites, viruses and fungi, well – I’ll do my best to not freak you out.   The fact of the matter is, there are a lot of ways we can contract a food-borne illness, without even knowing it.  Some things are obvious, like not eating undercooked meat or fish, avoiding water in undeveloped countries and making sure we know where our food came from, can help to prevent illnesses from parasites and viruses.  Viruses are tricky, because unlike bacteria and most parasites, there’s not a lot we can do to kill them when it comes to manipulating pH, temperature or other factors.  The best and sometimes only way to prevent viral contamination is to make sure to understand and practice good personal hygiene (more on that next week!)

Last but not least of the biologics are FUNGI!!!!  One of my favorites.  What’s nice about these guys,molds and yeasts, is that for the most part, they’re not really all that BAD for your foods. Mold can make your food look pretty disgusting, change the way it looks, smells or tastes, but in general won’t really hurt you.  Although its usually best to get rid of any contaminated foods, because some molds can leave behind toxins that aren’t easily killed by cooking.   And don’t forget, we owe a lot to molds and yeasts – beer and wine, prime rib and some pretty tasty cheeses all get their flava flavs from these guys.  Nom.

Chemical Contaminants:  Are one of the hottest topics around these days and are a big reason that there’s been such a push for organic produce and cleaning up the environment.  Not without good reason either, some of these guys are na.sty.  Chemical contamination can occur from residual chemicals, which would be from antibiotics, pesticides etc, that remain ON the food after their intended purpose has been fulfilled.  So be sure to wash your fruits and veggies!

Other means of chemical contaminants include food service chemicals, which are things like cleaners, pesticides, etc.  A lot of these things are dangerous if ingested, so keep things clearly labeled and rinsed/washed properly before breaking out the food again.  Finally, toxic metals, like lead and mercury, among others are one last source of chemical contamination. You’ve probably heard a lot about not eating too much tuna because of mercury contamination and the lead in imported ceramics.  Its all scary stuff, but important to remember that if you’re being careful and smart about your food decisions and preparation, you don’t have to give up the things you love to eat!

Last, but not least, there are the physical contaminants.  Sometimes funny to read about, but no less dangerous.  This is when you find things in your food that simply should not be there, whether it be metal shavings, glass, dirt, hair (gross) or, you know…fingers.

And that’s that! Obviously there is a lot more in depth talk, especially regarding bacteria and preventative measures with all of the contaminants.  I know I’ve stressed this a few times throughout the post, but the take home message REALLY seems to be if you’re going to prepare food, for yourself or someone else BE CLEAN and be SMART about your food.  Know where its coming from and be aware of the potential dangers about cooking, storing and serving your meal!   It can be kind of scary to think about all the things that could go wrong, but in the grand scheme of things, the number of times that happens, compared to the number of times it DOESN’T happen, is a little more comforting J

Hope ya’ll had a great weekend and I’ll be back tomorrow with another installment of the Tofu Trials! J


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