5 Chef-Approved Food Safety Tips
How to slice, heat, grill, pack and prep like a pro
When it comes to preparing meals, safety is one of the biggest concerns for chefs. For starters, chefs owe it to their customers to take steps to prevent foodborne illness. And they owe it to themselves — and their livelihood — to stay injury-free in the kitchen.
Five chefs share their tried-and-true safety tips:
When it comes to chipping and dicing, your goal is to keep your kitchen knives from slicing right into your fingers. That’s why chef Nancy Lowell, author of “Food and Kitchen Safety: A Guide for the Home Cook” and creator of the blog The Chef’s Last Diet, always tucks her knife under the cutting board on the far side each and every time she steps away from her work. “I also suggest keeping knives in a knife block, not in your drawers where you could easily snag a finger,” she says. “That’s better for preserving the sharpness of the knives, too.”
(Photo: Nancy Lowell)
#2. Invest in a good food thermometer
“A food thermometer is the only reliable way to ensure that food is cooked to proper temperatures,” says Imran Ali, executive chef of Tamarind of London, a restaurant in Newport Beach, CA. Simply insert a thermometer into a meaty part of the meat that you’re cooking. All raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops and roasts should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. All poultry should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F. “Keep in mind that meat inevitably harbors bacteria,” he says. “Your goal is to make sure you’ve cooked it to a high enough temperature to guarantee the rapid destruction of the bacteria that can cause human disease.’’ Also use a food thermometer to make sure cooked food is kept safe until served. Cold foods should remain at 40 degrees F or below, while hot food should be kept kept hot at 140 degrees F or above.
#3: Get smart about food storage
Shelf-stable foods, including flour and dried fruit, shouldn’t just be placed willy-nilly in your cupboards, says Fortunato Nicotra, executive chef at Felidia, based in New York City. “The most important tip is to buy fresh goods, especially nuts, which can often be rancid upon purchase,” he says. “Then use containers to store them in room temperature conditions with little light and dry conditions.” That’s your best bet for keeping weevils (AKA flour mites) from invading your flour and sugar.
If it’s your turn to work the grill, always tie your hair back and wear an apron to protect yourself from the flames and heat, says Linkie Marais, a chef who competed on “Food Network Star.” “Your apron should also be tied in the back, rather than the front, to make sure there are no loose ends near the grill,” says Marais. “When I remove items from the grill or have to flip many pieces of meat, I like to wear pit mitts/heat-proof gloves. They protect your hands and lower arm from any hot debris or excessive heat."
In addition, she says to skip the flip-flops when you’re grilling to avoid burns from flying sparks. “Any closed-toe shoes with a sturdy bottom will do.”
And, no matter what, be sure to keep your kids at a safe distance from the grill, and never leave the grill unattended. “My suggestion is to create a ‘three foot rule’ for children, explaining that they’re not to play within three feet of the grill,” advises Marais.
Former “Food Network Star” Linkie Marais shows off her smart-grilling tactics. (Photo: Linkie Marais)
Related: How to Cook (Safely) with Kids
Planning to dine al fresco? Insulated coolers and cooler packs are a transported foods’ best friend, says Uma Naidoo, MD, a culinary Instructor at The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and psychiatry instructor at Harvard Medical School. “When you’re eating outside, you want to remove food from the cooler and eat it right away,” she says. If your dining destination entails grilling burgers, “it’s imperative that ground beef is stored in a cooler that’s below 41 degrees F until you’re ready to cook it,” she adds.
A good rule to follow, says Naidoo: Any food that’s sitting out should be eaten within two hours — and within one hour when temps are 90 degrees F or above.