Food Hygiene and Personal Hygiene at your Work Place – Pastry Chef
I was going to talk about something else today, but then I realized that any chef course starts with the most basic of the basics – food hygiene and safety and how to avoid contamination of your food. Being a professional chef or pastry chef means having and applying some well established food safety rules, not only for the health of your customers, but also for your ego and reputation. Food safety and safe handling and storage of food is a sign of a real professional chef who works for his customers and less for the money. Moreover, even if you’re a home cook, food hazards still exist and you should take them into account just to make sure your food is safe to eat even if it’s just for family and friends.
The food industry is wide and it covers so many domains. After all, food is something we eat daily and we all buy it from places that are clean and inspire trust, right?! But because food is made for people, the main concern when it comes to food safety is how to avoid getting your customers ill by offering them contaminated food. By contaminated food I mean food that contains harmful substances that weren’t in the original food or recipe. Food can be contaminated by anything, from dish washing soap to various toxins, viruses, bacteria and the list can go on. It is our job as chefs to make sure the food we make would never endanger someone’s life while it tastes good and offers good value for the money people pay.
This may sound like a technical article, but I think it is highly important to know this kind of information if you’re taking pride on your work and are striving to become a professional. So keep reading! I’m sure you knew many of these rules already but a reminder is great from time to time.
The substances or microorganisms that can contaminate food are called hazards and they can be categorized into:
Biological hazards refers to microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites. They can’t usually be seen with a naked eye and often don’t influence the look or taste of the food much. Bacteria is one of the most often encountered food hazards as once in contact with food and a favorable environment, bacteria multiply quickly, sometimes they double in just 15 minutes, how scary does that sound?!
Bacteria prefers food rich in protein, such as poultry, soups, dairy and eggs, but it also requires water in order to consume proteins and multiply. For that reason dry food has fewer chances to be contaminated by bacteria as the lack of water would make it impossible for it to feed. In addition to this, bacteria also needs a certain temperature that makes multiplying so much easier. The perfect temperature for bacteria is between 41F (5C) and 135F (57C) and it is known as the Food Danger Zone. So warm food stored in an improper place or container has bigger chances of developing bacteria than chilled food, especially if it meets any of the other conditions mentioned above. To prevent bacteria from forming and spreading, you need to take away the conditions that encourage them to do that. And in the kitchen, the most effective and handy weapon is the temperature – keep your food below 5C or above 57C – that’s the standard rule and the one you need to always remember! In the food industry, bacteria is killed by processing the food for a short time at 77C for 30 seconds or in various stages. This process is called pasteurizing and it is used for many foods or ingredients like dairy, canned food, fruit purees or any ready-made food you can buy in supermarkets or stores.
But bacteria is not the only biological hazard that can endanger our food – viruses, fungi and parasites are also dangers. Viruses don’t grow in food like bacteria, but once contaminated and ingested, they will spread inside your body and trigger a response from your immune system. So next time you have a cold, don’t sneeze on your food! (gross, right?! But it could happen). Parasites are microorganism that live in food, mostly dairy or fruits and vegetables – so always buy milk from a safe source and wash or peel your fruits and veggies well.
Contaminating food with chemicals can happen and it is called poisoning. This contamination is often caused by not handling or cleaning equipment properly. Even dish washer soap is a chemical, don’t forget that! To avoid contamination, always store chemicals far away from your food – insecticides, cleaning products, polishing compounds, they have no place near your kitchen and should be stored out of children’s reach or away from products that have a similar package, color or smell.
This refers to objects that may not be toxic, but can cause injury or discomfort. This includes pieces of broken glass, stones or sand from not washing ingredients properly, metal shavings from a can, hair, insects and the list can go on. None of these are pleasant to find in your food, are they?! So wear a hair net in a professional kitchen and be careful how you wash the food and don’t leave it exposed to insects. Always sift your flour before use to make sure there are no insects or objects that can contaminate your food, be careful when opening up cans, cover your food properly and store it away from any possible contamination.
- The first step in preventing food contamination for both professionals and home cooks is a proper personal hygiene! Even if you are healthy, you may still have bacteria on your hands for instance and you can easily contaminate the food you handle, whether it is meat, fruits or vegetables. Here are some things to consider when working with food:
- Do not work with food if you have an infection or a disease that can easily spread to your co-workers or even contaminate the food you handle!
- Wear clean uniforms and aprons! They’re not fashion items (although sometimes they are quite trendy) – every work day should start with a clean uniform and a clean or new (if you’re using one-time wear) apron.
- Keep your hair neat and clean and always wear a hat or hairnet. This applies to mustaches and beards as well.
- Don’t wear rings, watches or bracelets at work as they could contaminate your food as well.
- Keep your nails clean and short and don’t use polish. I have to admit that when I worked in a professional kitchen, this was a chore because I love to paint my nails, but rules are rules and I had to comply. When you are at home, this may not be as compulsory, but it’s still something to consider when you are cooking for a large number of people. I personally keep my nails quite short all the time as I find it to be not only better in terms of hygiene, but also more practical in terms of how you handle food and how you get the work done.
- Wash your hands and the exposed parts of your hands before work and whenever needed.
- Cover your mouth when you’re sneezing or coughing and always wash your hands after.
- Don’t smoke during service! Most restaurants or hotels have designated areas for staff smoking and it is done during breaks, not just anytime, anywhere. Always wash your hands after!
- Wash your hands at least 20 seconds using enough soap to create a layer over your skin. Make sure you wash your fingers and the area between fingers well then rinse your hands well. Always dry your hands with a single-use towel!
- Use gloves if you have cuts or burns or any kind of other wounds.
Guidelines to Handling and Preparing Food
- Buy milk and dairy from a safe source (usually this means products that have been inspected by the Sanitation Department and they have the needed hygiene approvals)
- Handle foods as little as possible with your bare hands – use gloves, tongs, spatulas or other tools when possible.
- Use clean and easy to sanitize equipment! In professional kitchens this means using steel tables and tools because they are easier to sanitize. At home, we don’t have the same sanitation expectations, but as a general rule, even at home, use steel bowls or replace the plastic ones from time to time and clean your working surface as you go, thus preventing contamination from one ingredient or product to another.
- Clean your working surface as you go! This is very important in a professional kitchen. As high your rank is, no one has to do the cleaning after you. You are responsible for your work place and it is your job to keep it clean and sanitized during work hours. I learnt this from day one of apprenticeship. Although I was the newest there and basically just an apprentice, no one made me wash the dishes or clean the tables. I was given responsibilities like the rest of the team so I had to act like a member of the team. Everyone was nice but hard working and that was truly inspiring.
- Wash raw fruits and veggies properly.
- Don’t leave food out of the fridge for hours! Bacteria can hardly wait for a favorable environment, trust me!
- Keep foods covered to prevent bugs, flies or hair getting in.
- To taste the food, don’t stick your fingers in! That may work and be fun at home, but in a professional kitchen this is not allowed. Instead, take out a small amount of food in a tiny dish and taste with a spoon. After tasting, don’t use the dish or spoon again before washing properly.
- Don’t mix leftovers with freshly prepared food. This applies in both in a professional kitchen and at home! Leftover food may be already contaminated and mixing it with freshly made food you basically contaminate your entire batch of food.
- Don’t put hot foods directly into the fridge. They will lower the temperature in the fridge and endanger the food that is in there already. Instead, use ice-water baths to cool the food before placing it in the fridge. In a professional kitchen, blast chillers are available so use those if possible.
In the end, allow me to congratulate you for reaching the end of this article. I know it’s been a long one, but I hope that food hygyiene will be crystal clear for you from now on. Like I said, some of these rules are not compulsory at home, but following them ensures that every food you cook is safe to eat. Take pride in your work and serve proper food to your family or guests! For any questions, don’t hesitate to use the comment section below!