By: Saima Ausaf
When we talk about wholesome and nourishing meals, we must realize that it is not only the nutritive content of the food that is being discussed but rather, the entire process of coming up with a healthy meal. This includes: the proper selection of the raw ingredients, their hygienic handling and successful processing into hearty dishes. All this is only possible if we practice the rules of good hygiene in our kitchens.
Making kitchen a clean and wholesome place should be the utmost responsibility of a good homemaker. Maintaining good basic hygiene in a home kitchen is definitely important and more so if u you if are living with elderly people, young babies or people with allergies or reduced immune system.
Here are a few points to adopt in our daily practices to make our foods more hygienic and healthy.
v Most importantly get into the habit of washing your hands whenever you touch raw meats, preferably with an anti-bacterial hand wash. Keep a soap dispenser close to the sink and use the side of your thumb (that has not touched the meat) to pump the soap onto your hands and then proceed.
v It is important to change your kitchen cleaning cloths and tea towels regularly. Keep different cloths for different cleaning jobs. Be sure to wash them in a hot-wash cycle. If u can afford, use the disposable anti-bacterial wipes that are readily available in the market these days.
v Chopping boards are an essential part of any kitchen and it is important to keep them clean and well maintained. Whether of wood or plastic, both types are safe provided they are cleaned properly. Never put ready to eat foods such as: fruits, vegetables or bread on a chopping board that has had raw meat on it previously, unless it has been washed thoroughly. The basic health concern over here is that of cross-contamination, when raw food containing bacteria comes into contact with cooked or ready to eat food. One important way of curbing cross-contamination is that you keep a separate chopping board for raw meat and fish and another one for all your other chopping. In this way you will be making a big contribution to your health and kitchen safety.
Wooden chopping boards, after use should be scrubbed with hot soapy water and then allowed to dry completely. They have been proven to be more hygienic than the plastic ones as wood has natural tannin in it which tends to act as an anti-bacterial agent. A paste of baking soda and water can clean and deodorize a wooden board, while bicarbonate soda and lemon juice is an incredible way of removing stains and disinfecting boards.
v Raw meat should be handled with extreme care to stop harmful bacteria from spreading and growing. Bacteria can spread if raw meat touches or drips into ready to eat food. Always store uncooked poultry, fish etc at the bottom of the fridge so it does not drip onto other foods. If the meat is not to be consumed within a day or so, we all know, it is best to freeze it.
Food stored at 0 degrees Fahrenheit will always be safe. The freezing process itself does not destroy the nutrients but inactivates any microbes present in the food (such as: bacteria, yeasts and molds). Once thawed, these microbes can become active, multiplying under the right conditions to reach levels that can lead to food borne illnesses. So, thawed food must be handled in exactly the same way as any other perishable food.
Freshness and quality at the time of freezing affect the condition of frozen foods. If frozen at peak quality, thawed food emerges better than food frozen at the end of their useful life. In order to retain the texture, colour, flavour and maximum nutrients, store the food at 0° Fahrenheit or below.
v Frozen food must be thawed before cooking. There are three safe ways to thaw food:
§ In the refrigerator
§ In cold water
§ In the microwave.
Thawing in the refrigerator is the safest of all the methods though it is a bit slow. Small items may defrost overnight. Large items like whole chicken or turkey may require a day to defrost completely (depending on the weight).
For faster thawing, place food in a leak proof plastic bag and immerse in cold water. After thawing cook immediately.
If defrosting in a microwave, plan to cook it immediately after thawing because some areas of the food might become warm and begin to cook while microwaving.
v Once the food is thawed it is ready to be cooked immediately. Cook poultry and other meats until well done, right through to the center. No pink should be visible and the juices should run clear. Whole pieces of meat such as steak maybe cooked to taste.
Leftovers should be refrigerated in small containers, as soon as possible (within 2 hours).
When reheating the leftovers, reheat to steaming hot.
It may be said that maintaining hygiene skills in the kitchen are more of common sense. One just has to act sensibly while handling and preparing food in order to extract maximum health benefits. Once you get into the habit, it becomes more of your nature, a vital addition to your life skills!