I’m being very careful in my kitchen, because how awful would it be to give diarrhea to a bunch of people who are living in tents without running water?!? Don’t want to do that! I have my King County food-worker card, which means I have learned the fundamentals of food safety. (There’s an informative lesson/quiz at this site where you can pay $10 online and get your card.)
I pay attention to two fundamental things, both of which are concerned with keeping harmful bacteria out of the food I serve:
- food temperature, and;
- surface and utensil sanitation.
When I cook ground beef, I brown it first (i.e. sauté in a pan), but that does not assure that potentially harmful bacteria are dead. The only way to know if ground beef is safe is to measure the temperature above 160 degrees (F), and that’s hard to do with a pan of beef in small crumbles. So, when I simmer the cooked meat in the sauce (chili, Sloppy Joe, etc.) I make sure it gets above 160.
It takes between 20 and 30 minutes to drive to one of the camps, so I wrap the transport tub in a fleece blanket for insulation. When I get to the camp, the tub is still too hot to touch.
I haven’t yet measured the temperature upon arrival, but 30 minutes is not too long to let food cool at room temperature and still be safe. I measured the temperature of a tub of chili today upon arrival at Camp Second Chance: 160 degrees in the center of the tub, and a few degrees cooler at the edge. So, completely safe!
Of course, I have no control of what happens at the camp, and I assume food sits out longer than it should, in some cases. So far I have have heard zero reports of food poisoning from my food or any other. Let’s hope that good record continues!
Surface and Utensil Sanitation
In a commercial kitchen, there are three sinks: wash, rinse, sanitize. In my home kitchen, to sanitize I use a spray bottle with a carefully calibrated solution of chlorine bleach. The target concentration of chlorine is 200 parts-per-million, which I check with a special test strip (available at Cash and Carry!) Every pot, pan, bowl, dish, spoon, or other utensil gets sprayed with chlorine after being washed in the sink. (Things that go in the dishwasher get sanitized with heat, which is very convenient.)
Also, every surface – including cutting boards – gets sprayed after being cleaned. And, periodically I will douse my sponges and brushes with the chlorine mixture to sanitize them. It takes only 60 seconds for the chlorine mixture to kill all the bacteria.
I really enjoy knowing that I have thoroughly cleaned and sanitized my kitchen before I cook for other people! And of course I wash my hands like a maniac, scores of times per day. Safety first!