The first concern of any cook should always be preparing food in a safe manner that is safe to eat. No cook wants to get burnt or cut, nor do they want to subject anyone to food borne illnesses. Preparing a clean meal in a safe manner just relies on paying close attention to how you are handling your food and your cooking implements.
As you follow these basic rules consistently, they will simply become habit over time. You will avoid unnecessary injuries, never (well almost never) burn your food, and be confident that your meals are safe to eat.
Tips for SAFE And CLEAN cooking:
Never leave a cooking element or open flame unattended
Wear proper clothing (closed toe shoes, no dangling clothes/hair)
Knives are knives (blood circle!) - be careful, use sharp knives
Beware of hot water and ESPECIALLY hot oil
Proper handling of raw meat (washing, gloves)
Let's discuss each of these in some more detail...
NEVER LEAVE A COOKING ELEMENT OR OPEN FLAME UNATTENDED
Leaving a pot and pan unattended at home can result in burnt food or potentially a home fire. But leaving a fire or stove unattended at a campsite can have far greater consequences. Often we cook close to forested areas and are not close to water sources or ready access by fire fighters. So, it is even more imperative to keep close watch while we are cooking over open flames.
WEAR PROPER CLOTHING
Cooking often involves hot liquids and unintended contact with skin can quickly lead to second degree burns. And if clothing catches fire, perhaps even worse. So, wear closed toe shoes, tie up long hair, and do not wear loose/dangling clothes.
KNIVES ARE KNIVES
Scouts are quick to think about blood circles and roped off areas when dealing with pocket knives, saws, and axes. But kitchen knives are just as prone to yielding cuts, and perhaps even more so as our guard may be down while cooking. Pay attention to the area around you before using kitchen knives. Make sure you are cutting on a clean, stable, and cut resistant surface. Your knives need to be sharp as that will actually lessen the chance of cuts. When done, be sure to properly clean and dry your knives to keep them in good shape.
BEWARE OF HOT WATER, HOT OIL
Boiling water is a common need in campsite cooking but we often forget that boiling water is 212 degrees Fahrenheit, more than hot enough to cause serious burns. You should pay close attention not just when heating up water, but when placing food into boiling water, when uncovering a pot of heated water (steam under pressure can get even hotter), and especially when handling or draining pots of boiling water.
If you think 212F is hot, you should know that regular olive oil has a smoke point of nearly 500 degrees Fahrenheit! So, anytime you are cooking with oil, you need to be especially careful. What should warrant even more caution is the combination of hot oil and water. Water and oil do not mix. And, we all know not to try and put out a grease fire with water. But, just the act of cooking food in oil provides opportunities for flare ups. As you cook food, and especially raw meat, the trapped moisture will seep out or evaporate and condense on lids. The water droplets will immediately boil as they are exposed to oil temperatures well above 212F. The best way to manage hot oil is simply to pull it off the flame when it is getting too hot.
PROPER HANDLING OF RAW MEAT AND FISH
Improper handling of raw meat and fish is one of the most common causes of food poisoning. According to the FDA, the Federal government estimates that there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illness annually—the equivalent of sickening 1 in 6 Americans each year. And each year these illnesses result in an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. Sadly, many of these instances of food poisoning can be prevented through the proper care and handling of raw meat and fish.
Food safety starts with checking expiration dates before purchasing meat or poultry. For fish, ask the fishmonger or grocery store clerk when it was caught or frozen, and your nose is always a good judge for fish. Next, its all about proper storage. All raw meat and fish should be stored in a cooler on ice up until it is time to cook. Raw meat can only be stored for a limited time if not frozen - check out this handy chart at the right from the FDA.
Once you start handling the raw meat or fish, be sure to start with clean hands, clean utensils, and clean surfaces - basically anything that will come into contact with the meat or fish. Once you hands or cooking implements have contacted raw meat, they should immediately be cleaned before contacting any other food. This is ESPECIALLY true for your hands. When you plan on cooking raw meat or fish, you should already have your wash buckets ready. This will make it easier to properly clean your hands and utensils while you cook. Be sure to remember the 3 bucket rule, soap and water along with disinfectant are key to keeping food borne illneses at bay. The general recommendation is proper cleaning with soap and water for 20 to 30 seconds after handling raw meat.
There is something special about meat cooking over an open flame or stewed in a dutch oven so long that it falls apart. Proper handling of these ingredients can ensure that your food contains all of the good flavors and none of the bad characters.
The above discussion is not meant to scare you aware from cooking. Preparing a safe meal in a safe manner is actually quite easy and you eventually will not even have to think about it. But, it is important to know the dangers and not become lazy.
Now that you know all about food safety, be sure to look out for the next post where we will start to dive into cooking techniques.
Yours in Scouting,
Grubmaster and ASM Alan Blatter