Sunday, June 13, 2010

Food preparation

I decided to do a short post on food preparation and food safety. I still often meet people who are unaware of the potential dangers of a piece of meat that hasn’t been cooked properly, for example. One can’t use just any fish to make sushi, and one can’t use just any beef from the grocery store to make steak tartare. With very few exceptions, it is always safer to thoroughly cook meat.

Let’s focus on ground beef for a moment. It is true that E. coli infections are rare. And I do prefer a hamburger patty to be slightly pink and juicy rather than too dry. But then there are stories like Stephanie Smith’s, who is now paralysed because of a packaged hamburger patty that was contaminated. Cases like this are more likely to happen when various cuts of meats are used to make the patties, because it increases the odds of low-grade meat and even feces of becoming part of the finished product. And yet, that’s still what’s on the market, and it’s perfectly legal. People say that it’s much safer to grind one’s own meat from a high-quality cut, but how many home cooks actually do that?

You can’t control the quality of prepared foods you buy, but you do have control over the ingredients in your own home. If you are concerned about such things as cross-contamination and food storage in your kitchen, you can take the LA County’’s Health Grade Test to see how it fares. This test is a real eye-opener! You should also know how to store things in your fridge (raw meat goes on the bottom, so it doesn’t drip onto other foods, foods that need the least refrigeration go in the fridge door because it’s the warmest, etc.). And of course, use different cutting boards for meat and vegetables.

There are also bacteria that develop on items that are already in one’s home, even if they are stored properly. Is the expiry date on a product just a suggestion? A helpful website called Still Tasty helps you figure out the shelf life of various products, as does this handy chart. But when in doubt, throw it out!

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