Food is a huge part of any charter. Big meals are also a mainstay of holiday merry-making. Put these two together and it is doubly important to not let carelessness in the kitchen turn into a food safety disaster.
Some 48 million Americans get sick annually due to something they ate, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and this number increases on a global scale. In fact, food safety isn’t confined to any one country or region of the world. The World Health Organization notes that the globalization of food production and trade increases the likehood of contaminated food being just about anywhere. While it’s just about impossible for an individual to control contamination from how a food is grown, shipped and sold, we can all clamp down on food safety risks in our own kitchens and galleys.
There are four buzzwords associated with keeping food safe, according to the Partnership for Food Safety Education. These are: clean, separate, cook and chill.
Clean Make sure everything is clean, from the food to your fingers, before you start to cook. Wash hands with soap and water. Wash utensils, like knives, cutting boards and dishes with hot soapy water after slicing each ingredient.
This is especially important when preparing foods like raw meat, poultry and fish and then preparing fresh produce, such as fruits and vegetables, in the same location. Potentially harmful bacteria in animal foods are killed when cooked, but not when they end up on something to be served raw, like a salad.
Separate Keep raw and cooked foods separate. At the supermarket, don’t put meats, poultry and fish in the same bag with fruits and vegetables.
In the refrigerator, don’t store these protein foods above a shelf with produce where meat or seafood juices may drip down. In the kitchen, don’t put cooked meats, poultry and fish on a clean platter rather than the plate that held them prior to cooking.
Cook Cook meats, poultry and eggs thoroughly. In case of doubt, use a thermometer that you can insert into the meat or poultry to be sure it reaches a proper temperature. Cookbooks, like the “Joy of Cooking” and other encyclopedia-type tomes, typically have charts that list safe cooking temperatures for a variety of animal foods. On another note, for protein foods meant to be served raw, cooking isn’t the key but safe purchasing is essential. Buy from a reputable source and keep well refrigerated. Consider investing in a cooler or insulated bag for any protein foods you purchase and are not going to cook, to be sure they don’t warm up dangerously from store to kitchen or galley.
Chill There seems nothing as delightful as that eternal buffet of goodies sitting out in the cockpit all afternoon. This is fine if you’re cruising the Arctic in the winter, but not if you’re in the warm, sunny Caribbean. Don’t leave foods to sit out for more than two hours when it’s hot, or for more than four hours in a more temperate climate. Heat makes bacteria multiply, and fast.
The ‘danger zone’ temperature, where bacteria multiply fastest, is between 40 F and 140 F. This same suggestion holds true when you’re cooking. Don’t wait to put leftovers away until after the meal, refrigerate what you don’t serve promptly. When storing large batches of dishes, like soups or casseroles, divide the entire recipe into smaller containers so that they chill more quickly.
If you don’t think you’re going to use the leftovers in three to four days, freeze them. Freeze foods in appropriate plastic containers or plastic bags. Be sure to label and date the items, so you know how long they’ve been refrigerated or frozen.
Taking care to clean, separate, cook and chill foods will assure happy and healthy holidays.
Carol Bareuther is a freelance writer in St. Thomas. Comments on this story are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.