Culinary Waves: by Chef Mary Beth Lawton Johnson
COVID-19 certainly has made being a yacht chef challenging. Everything we buy from a third party such as a grocery store or provisioner has to be thoroughly wiped down and disinfected before it’s brought onboard.
We’ve learned that the virus can stay dormant in the freezer for up to seven years so freezing items will not kill it. The virus will, however, die if heated. So now’s the time to focus on hot snacks and meals onboard. Cold foods really need to be put on the back burner.
When we think of food-borne pathogens, we are constantly reminded that we must measure the temperature of hot items to make sure they stay hot. Bacteria can grow rapidly at lower temperatures if held out at longer times. Remember the old saying: When in doubt, throw it out. If it’s been at room temperature for four hours or more, toss it. I toss it after two hours.
So these are the steps I take to ensure that I keep the crew, myself and the owner and guests safe. There are some great videos online that detail each step in the “chain of food brought onboard”.
- Have plenty of disinfectant handy, whether it’s bleach-water alcohol or disinfecting wipes. Make sure that rags are thoroughly soaked in the disinfectant. Ideally, we would leave items bought elsewhere to spend 3-4 days outside before bringing them into the galley, but unfortunately that does not work in yachting because there really is no place to put things “outside.”
- Wear disposable gloves. I change them often.
- Have a counter designated for the items brought in from outside. Have another that is disinfected and clean. Wipe down each item and set it on the disinfected counter. Items that have plastic bags or boxes such as spinach or lettuce, wipe that all down before it is even transferred to a container. Change those disposable gloves before touching the new food container. I keep a garbage bag next to me so I can put all the containers into the garbage bag.
- Fruit and vegetables need to be cleaned in either a little bit of bleach water or soapy water for at least 20 seconds, scrubbing each piece of fruit. I use grapeseed extract in the water when I clean them. Just as you would wash your hands in hot soapy water for 20 minutes, we need to do the same thing with all vegetables and fruit.
- Practice good sanitation. Chefs should wash their hands thoroughly and often, resist touching their faces, and wear a mask if needed. All surfaces should be wiped down with a disinfectant.
- Use the sanitation cycle on the dishwasher to keep utensils and other things touched by others clean.
The virus can live on cardboard for a few hours and on plastic for a few days, so get rid of all that stuff. When coming back aboard from shopping, change clothes immediately. I actually take a shower before I enter back into the galley.
All of this is going to take more time but with the statistics of survival rate shown with the coronavirus being what they are, every minute counts in preparing the food to be as safe as possible.
It is almost impossible to practice social distancing on a yacht. If any of the crew feel any of the symptoms such as a sore throat, cough, fever or runny nose, please tell the captain, isolate and get on the phone with a doctor. Most doctors and hospitals now use telemedicine so that going into an office or hospital is not usually necessary, unless of course it is.
Be safe. Take precautions. Stay where you are. The more everyone practices this, the safer we’ll all be.
Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years. Comments are welcome below.