When it comes to food safety, one of the most dangerous presumptions is that the more you wash something, the cleaner it becomes, and therefore the safer to consume it must be. However, the reality is that this couldn’t be any further from the truth. There are some food items that should only be washed minimally during the preparation process – and others shouldn’t be washed at all.
Here at the Australian Institute of Accreditation (AIA), we take food safety and hygiene seriously. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the foods, utensils, and any other important things you need to wash or leave alone during your prepping and cooking process.
Do: Wash your hands regularly
Many people wash their hands after they begin to cook but forget to wash before or during the process. You should always aim to wash your hands before you start handling your food and equipment in order to ensure that any bacteria you’ve picked from being out and about is gone.
Not only this but remember to thoroughly wash your hands after handling raw meat or poultry – even it is just to open packaging. The most effective way to avoid cross-contamination is to wash your hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds. The same goes for if you also tend to your child or a sick person, or sneeze while cooking.
Don’t: Rinse meat or eggs before cooking
It’s one of the most harmful food myths out there: that rinsing your meat before you handle it will get rid of all the nasty bacteria, making it completely safe and germ-free. The truth is that washing meat is unnecessary as heat will kill all of the bacteria, and washing it will simply cause the bacteria to transfer to other kitchen surfaces, thanks to splashback.
Regarding eggs, there is simply no need to wash them. They are all washed to regulation standard before being packaged anyway, and washing eggs while in your kitchen could lead to cross-contamination if there are any cracks in the shell.
Do: Wash your fresh produce
In contrast to meat and eggs which should never be washed, you should always be aiming to rinse out your fresh produce before using it. The most effective way to rid your produce of any dirt, bacteria and sneaky little bugs that might have crept in is to run it under cold running water for at least 20 seconds. Using detergent or soap is not necessary, and can in fact be harmful should you end up ingesting any of it.
Remember to also cut away any bruised or mouldy parts, as these are breeding grounds for germs and can be harmful if eaten. Any fruit or veg with a tough exterior, such as an apple or potato, may be gently scrubbed with a clean brush to help remove dirt if needs be.
Don’t: Forget to wash utensils before re-using
Regarding this, we specifically mean any and all utensils that have come into contact with raw meat or its juice. Never go from chopping raw meat to chopping your produce with the same knife without thoroughly washing the knife first. You should always wash the utensil in question with hot water and soap, covering all surfaces (even if they haven’t directly touched the meat).
The same goes for chopping boards the meat was chopped on, spatulas used to stir the meat, and any other equipment that has been near or came into contact with raw meat. If you’re unsure of whether it has been near raw meat, it’s better to be safe than sorry – wash it anyway.
Do: Both Clean AND Sanitise your countertops and sink
It is important to note that this is a TWO STEP PROCESS – Clean and Sanitise – they are not the same thing…
This should be done first of all before you start cooking (in a commercial situation, this should be prior to every use and/or every 4 hours). This is simply to ensure no passing bacteria during the day lingers as you cook food. During the cooking process, any spillage should be quickly cleaned up to avoid cross-contamination or stickiness (a breeding ground for germs and an attraction for many insects). The same goes for meat juice, too. Lastly, be sure to thoroughly clean down any countertops and your sink after cooking and wash-up.
The best way to clean your sink and countertops is by using hot water and soap, as this is the most efficient method of killing off chances of cross-contamination. After cleaning, you should sanitise the surfaces with food grade sanitising chemicals. The simplest method is to use diluted bleach in the ratio of 2½ teaspoons per 10 litres of water for household bleach (4% chlorine) or 1 teaspoon per 10 litres of water for commercial bleach (10% chlorine). Note that the ratio may be slightly different depending on the product used, so always follow manufacturers instructions and always use unscented bleach!
An excellent overview of cleaning and sanitising is provided by the NSW Food Authority and may be found by clicking the following link: CLEANING AND SANITISING IN RETAIL FOOD BUSINESSES.
For all your food safety and food handling certificates, choose AIA. We offer a variety of courses and certifications to suit a wide range of industries and professionals.