Then I read Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma and watched Food, Inc., and got my education about what has happened to food in this country. The most alarming thing is that factories that are turning out unsafe food are not being closed down. Remember the salmonella outbreak in eggs that sickened 1500 people this summer? The outfit that sold those eggs has been knowingly turning out contaminated eggs for years, and owner Jack de Costa got nothing more than a warning letter from the FDA. Seriously.
So how can I know if the food I bring into my house is safe to eat? I can’t. The industrial food system is opaque and unaccountable. What I’ve done to mitigate the risk of food illness and death, to maximize the healthiness of my food, is to step outside of the industrial system as far as possible, and get to know the people who grow my food. By shopping at the local farmer’s markets I’ve located sources for almost all the foods my family needs.
When I brought food preparation and preservation into my own kitchen I took responsibility for my family’s food safety. This means I have to know how to keep my kitchen clean and how to cook and preserve food responsibly. It was a bit scary at first, but I figured I had to do a better job than distant unaccountable factories, and I care about my family a lot more than the government agencies that aren’t keeping us safe.
Here are some of the processes my family has put into place to ensure we are operating in a reasonably clean environment.
Install thermometers. There are thermometers in the refrigerator, the freezer, the root cellar, and the oven, all registering the temperature of those environments. The refrigerator should be at 35 to 40 degrees, the freezer at 0, and the root cellar 50-60 (ours stays about 58 but it still preserves reasonably well).
I thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator, and use a digital thermometer to read the temperature of cooked meat. I cook salmon to 130, poultry to 160 and pork to 180.
When I make stuff to freeze I package it in small containers and put them in the big freezer in the garage, which can handle the heat they put out. With smaller amounts I put them straight into the refrigerator or the refrigerator’s freezer.
Avoid cross-contamination. When we buy meat at the grocery it stays in the bottom of the cart. Raw meat stays in the lowest crisper in the refrigerator. We use an acrylic cutting board for handling raw meat, wash it with bleach and run it in the dishwasher after use. I handle meat on one side of the double sink and wash it down immediately after use.
Keep it clean. One kitchen towel is the designated hand towel in the kitchen and a second is the dish towel. We wash hands very frequently while cooking and always after handling meat, and wipe down the counters frequently with water mixed with a little bleach. Recently we disposed of our sponges and brought in a supply of dishcloths. All cloth in the kitchen (including aprons) gets changed at least once and sometimes twice a day. These are the only fabrics that we launder in hot water.
A clean kitchen is a pleasure to work in, clean food is a joy to cook, and food created with joy is lifegiving to eat.