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Safe Cooking is Good Cooking

Michael Kelly

One of the fastest ways to spot an untrained cook in the kitchen isn’t by quizzing their culinary knowledge. It’s by inspecting their safety procedures. Typically, the safest chefs are among the best chefs, and it’s no coincidence that the best cooking and kitchen safety techniques can improve the taste and quality of the food you cook. Learn how to maintain your knives, store your food, handle heating elements and dress for the occasion to boost your kitchen game.

“Sharpen” Your Knives

A blunt knife is more dangerous than a sharp one. It’s also more frustrating to use. But that doesn’t mean you should sharpen your knives every week. In fact, you will probably only need to sharpen your knives once a year if you care for them. You also shouldn’t sharpen your knives on your own. Most electric and hand sharpeners do more damage than good. Sharpening a knife means creating a brand-new cutting edge. It takes about a year of regular use for a blade to lose its edge. Creating a new edge on a blade requires a lot of skill and it’s likely your electric or hand sharpener won’t do a good job with it. It’s recommended that you take your blade to a professional to have it sharpened.

The truth is that your knives probably don’t need to be sharpened if they feel dull. They need to be honed. Knives can develop small wrinkles and curves in the edges of their blades quickly. Honing corrects these small wrinkles and curves and you can do it before every usage.

To hone a blade, you’ll need a honing steel. That’s the weird tool that probably came in your knife set that you didn’t know what to do with. It looks like a long screwdriver with a blunt tip and coarse surface along its metal column. Here’s how to use it to hone your knives:

  1. Put a cutting board down on your countertop.
  2. Take the honing steel by its grip so that the metal column is pointing down.
  3. Place the tip of the metal honing column on the cutting board with your hand still on the grip.
  4. Take a knife in your other hand and touch the part of the blade closest to the handle against the honing steel. Angle the knife at 15° to the honing steel. (This doesn’t have to be perfect.)
  5. Carefully drag the knife, end to tip, across the honing steel.
  6. Do this five times on one side. Then do five times on the other side. Then two times on the original side.

Your knife blade is now honed and it should feel much “sharper.”

Store Food Properly

The refrigerator may not be the best storage option for all foods. Knowing what food should be stored where and for how long can help prevent contamination and improve flavor.

Alliums: Foods such as garlic and onions should be stored in a cool dry place. Don’t put these in the fridge. They’ll lose their flavor if you do.

Bananas, citrus and melons: Leave foods such as bananas, lemons and watermelons on the counter. Once they’ve been cut, zested or peeled, they should go in the refrigerator.

Baked goods: Breads, cakes and pies can be stored on a countertop as long as they are tightly wrapped in plastic. Fruit pies can be kept on a countertop for two days before being moved to the refrigerator. Cakes can stay on the countertop for a week if uncut. If the cake has been cut, it should only be on the counter for three or four days. After that, they should be moved to the refrigerator. Bread can be stored on a countertop for two days after its packaging has been opened. After two days, bread should be wrapped in a freezer bag and put in the freezer.

Dairy: Milk, cheese, yogurt, cream and any other dairy product should always be refrigerated. Butter and ghee don’t need to be refrigerated, but they will last longer if they are. Don’t put them just anywhere in the fridge, though. Keep them on the top shelf where the temperature is more consistent. Cheese should be wrapped in a porous material, such as cheese paper, before being refrigerated. If you don’t have cheese paper, you can also use wax or parchment paper. Don’t use plastic. Cheese can easily absorb the chemicals and taste of plastic. It’s also recommended that you scrape the surface of the cheese with a non-serrated knife before putting it back in the refrigerator. This will remove any excess oil that was sweat out.

Fruits and Veggies: Store vegetables (except for alliums) in a plastic, perforated bag in your vegetable crisper. Don’t use the one they came in from the store because it might be dirty. Put fruits such as apples, plums, pears and mangoes in a separate drawer from vegetables. Some fruits produce ethylene which can cause vegetables to decompose faster. Do not wash fruit until you’re ready to eat it. Too much water on the fruit’s skin surface can cause it to decompose.

Meat: Store meat on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator because that is the coldest section. Remove the store packaging and wrap the meat in foil. Do not leave cooked meat in the refrigerator for more than four days. Uncooked ground round meats can be left in the refrigerator for no more than two days. Uncooked poultry can stay in the refrigerator for two days at most. Fish should be patted dry and wrapped in wax paper before going into the fridge. Cooked or uncooked, it will only last two days. If you’re going to freeze meat, it’s best to do it immediately after buying it. Freeze meat and poultry in its original packaging. Most meat will be okay in the freezer for up to four months. Any type of sausage should be kept for a maximum of two months. Lean fish can last for up to six months. Fatty fish should only be kept in the freezer for three months. It’s recommended that you wrap fish tightly in plastic or foil. You can also try ice glazing your fishing.

Handle Heating Elements

The stovetop is the most dangerous element in the kitchen. It is responsible for sixty two percent of all house fires and eighty eight percent of household fire deaths. In a distant second is the oven. Ovens account for thirteen percent of house fires and four percent of house fire deaths. Thirty three percent of home cooking fires start as a result of leaving heating elements unattended. The following cooking safety tips can do more than save a meal from burning. They can save your life:

Keep combustible materials such as wooden spoons and dish rags at least 3 feet from a heating element.

Always set a timer to check on food that is being left in the oven or on the stovetop. Even if something is being left in the oven for a few hours, set a timer for 20 or 30 minutes to remind yourself to check on it.

Make sure that smoke alarms are nearby and functional.

Keep a fire extinguisher in an easily accessible spot in your kitchen and have it inspected yearly by your fire department.

Dress Appropriately

You should always wear a poly spun apron while cooking. This may seem a bit excessive, but a poly spun apron can protect against fire, excessive heat and is easy to clean and difficult the stain. It’s simple enough to hang an apron in one of your taller cabinets or on the inside of a pantry door. If you’re not going to don a chef’s apron, at least wear short sleeves and remove any jewelry when cooking.

Use and Maintain Your Cutting Boards Correctly

Cutting boards can help prevent the spread of bacteria and protect your countertops. Traditional wooden cutting boards have a tendency to slide, though. This can make it difficult and dangerous to trim and cut food. You can help prevent sliding by placing a damp towel underneath the cutting board.

Plastic cutting boards usually have rubber, nonskid feet. Unfortunately, plastic cutting boards have a tendency to warp. This can prevent the nonskid feet from providing traction and the cutting board will become very dangerous to use. Keep a plastic cutting board from becoming warped by laying it flat on a dish rack when it goes into the dishwasher. You can also wash it by hand, but being able to put it in the dishwasher is one of the main reasons to buy a plastic board instead of a wood one.

If your plastic cutting board does become warped, you can try to fix it. First, run it through the dishwasher on its hottest setting. Take the cutting board out once the wash cycle is complete and lay it on the countertop. Then place pots filled with room temperature water on top of the cutting board to flatten it out. Leave it like this for six hours. This should help straighten out your warped plastic cutting board.

A safe kitchen is a well-functioning kitchen. Not only will these tips help keep you and others safe, but they can help improve your culinary skills and meals. Well-maintained knives, properly stored produce and monitored heating elements all help lead to tastier outcomes. No matter what you’re cooking, staying safe is always the first step of any good recipe.

READ MORE: 10 Don’t-Bother-Buying Kitchen Tools

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