Can you guess what the most stocked is onboard a yacht? Toilet paper, a critical item we just cannot run out of and therefore have plenty stored onboard.
But the second one is most likely paper towels. Have we really stopped to think just how much we use the lone paper towel? You could probably count at least 10 uses in a minute, especially in the galley.
Chefs use them to drain the grease off of fried items, to sop up the water in a dish, to keep a salad fresh (by wetting it and placing it on top to keep the moisture in a salad), to wipe the rim of a plate before serving, and to wipe our hands, to name a few.
Some chefs use them to wipe produce after washing and also to put them in a bag with produce to mark it as clean. How about the old trick of wrapping asparagus with wet paper towels then putting them in a bag in the refrigerator?
There are a lot of uses for paper towels on board, but some of the uses are probably not the best solution. I will tell you why.
Something we think of as safe and clean, something we use every day, really isn’t that great to use on food. It starts in the processing of the paper towel by bleaching it. When it is bleached, the process uses chlorinated gas, which in turn produces chlorinated compounds such as dioxins, a powerful carcinogen. Plus, if you use paper towels that have imprints on them, those colors are dyes, which are created by chemicals. They also contain other items that aren’t so wanted in a food-preparation area.
When I learned this, I began thinking about alternatives to using paper towels. I went online to find paper towels that don’t subscribe to this theory of production, and could only find a few brands that are not bleached.
So I have begun using regular cloth towels dedicated to food production. They are not washed with other towels so no lint or foreign objects can be introduced into the food. We also use these cloth towels to clean a plate before serving it to the guests.
I also put fresh produce in containers with a small amount of water in the bottom to keep them hydrated for a later use rather than wrapping them in wet paper towels.
Instead of paper towels for cleaning the counters (depending, of course, on what the counter is made of), I use alcohol wipes to sterilize and clean them.
When draining fat and grease off of fried foods, I use a cooling rack over single-use towels. That way the food does not sit in its grease, it does not touch the paper towel, and air circulates around the food so there’s less moisture.
These are simple, effective ways to reduce the use of paper towels in the galley. If you just have to have your paper towels onboard, consider choosing an unbleached one. Buy the most natural towels that you can. They might be more expensive but reducing the toxins introduced into our bodies is worth it.
Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 20 years. Comments on this column are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.