Classic Dirty Sink - © Tracy Mullett @

Kitchen Safety I – Common Sense!

We’re talking mufti-dimensional safety, here: Sanitation, sharps safety, food handling and storage safety, cooking techniques safety, and more. This is stuff everybody who cooks should know. And practice.

Classic Dirty Sink - © Tracy Mullett @ dandelionmama.comA classic example of how not to leave your kitchen sink. This sink is
a safety and sanitation disaster. We’ll look the right way to wash

your kitchen tools and dishes in an upcoming segmnent
of this Kitchen Safety series.

This is the first installment of a series on kitchen and food safety. Don’t miss a single post! You may be surprised at what you didn’t know… And, as you’ll see, in the kitchen, what you don’t know can hurt you!

It’s all just common sense, really…

…And the key to basic kitchen and food safety is literally at your fingertips. Yup. Wash your hands properly and often! I mean, what else comes into contact with literally everything you cook and serve? Dirty hands are the leading cause of cross-contamination in the kitchen, hands down!

In the foodservice industry, there are specific rules and guidelines governing hand washing…

The general instruction is to, “Wash your hands properly* with soap and water” (preferably anti-bacterial):

• Whenever you switch from working with one kind of ingredient to working with another (i.e.- meat/protein to vegetables, or veggies to dairy, or even from one kind of meat/protein to another).

• Whenever you switch from working with previously-prepared foods to raw foods (or vice-verse).

• After handling discarded materials (i.e.- stuff destined for the garbage can).

• After taking out the garbage.

• After taking a bathroom/smoke/answer-the-phone/whatever break. Or any kind of break where you actually leave the kitchen, for that matter.

• After handling dirty dishes, dirty kitchen tools or dirty cookware.

• After washing down the counters, sinks, cutting boards or cabinets.

• After cleaning up spills.

• After handling anything on the floor.

• After touching your face, ears or hair.

• After touching or feeding a pet.

In your own home, of course, it’s up to you to decide how meticulous your hand washing regime will be. Use common sense. But be sure to guard against cross-contamination between different kinds of foods and between raw foods and cooked foods.

How to wash your hands - ©

* Wash your hands properly

Various health departments, food handling safety trainers and other authorities generally agree on the following procedure for washing your hands “properly”:

• Wet your hands under hot running water.

• Apply an anti-bacterial hand soap. Hint: Most popular brands now offer a combination product, usually labelled something like “Anti-Bacterial Liquid Hand/Dish Detergent”. Put some in a pump bottle to use specifically for washing your hands.

• Massage the the soap into all surfaces of your hands for at least 20 seconds. Thirty is better. Use your fingers of one hand to get between the fingers of the other, and vice-verse, and make sure you wash up your arms past your wrists, ideally half way up to your elbows.

• For a really thorough cleaning, put the tips of the fingers and thumb of one hand together and rub them for a few seconds in a circular motion in the palm of the other hand. Repeat with opposite hands. That’s how they do it at the hospital. It’s optional in foodservice workplaces.

• When you’ve finished washing all surfaces of your hands, rinse off in hot water, shake dry and use a single-use towel (could be as simple as a regular kitchen paper towel) to dry your hands. Don’t use cloth towels that have been, or will be, used to dry other parts of your body or someone else’s hands. This is a hard-and-fast rule in foodservice workplaces. It’s also not a bad idea at home, especially if someone in the family is sick. As you’ll know if you’ve ever left one in a gym bag over the weekend, a damp towel is an ideal spot for bacteria to thrive and multiply.

• Just like you’d do in a public washroom after washing your hands, use the paper hand drying towel to turn off the faucet. Faucet handles are a major focus of hand-to-hand cross-contamination!

Again, in your own home, it’s up to you to set the hand washing protocols. Let common sense prevail!

Nail polish and faux nails

At culinary school, on the first day, the Chef/Instructor explained the industry srandards for personal hygene in the kitchen. One of the first things he touched upon (literally) after talking about hair nets and hats, and washing your hands, was the dangers of nail polish and glue-on/gel nails. Polish can chip and glue-ons can pop off under the every-day stresses of peeling vegetables and portion-dressing meats, fish or poultry. The Chef gets the last word on this one: “Nobody wants to find a hunk of plastic in their food!”

Govern yourself accordingly. And check your nails regularly for “deserters”…

“Hands-free” Soap Dispensers

At least one major home sanitation products manufacturer has recently been marketing, intensely, a “hands-free” pump-style hand soap dispenser. Really? There may be germs on the pump plunger but you’re about to wash your hands anyway! This is a perfect example of a product that nobody needs. (And nobody needs to keep buying batteries for, either!)

But it is “SOMETHING NEW” for the sanitation manufacturers to flog to you (for the sake of having something new to flog) and it leverages the technology they’ve already perfected for those automatic air freshener devices – another thing which nobody should need, if they follow common sense home sanitation guidelines.

It’s far more important to sanitize the faucet handles on your sinks, as discussed above.

Hand sanitizers

Foodservice sanitation authorities agree that popular “hand sanitizer” gels are no substitute for frequent hand washing. But they are better than nothing when you can’t get to a sink to wash your hands.

Hand lotions

Don’t use hand lotion after washing your hands in a food preparation context. Apply it generously after your cooking session if you wish, to combat dry skin that may result from all that washing. Your hand lotion dispenser may harbour bacteria, especially if it’s kept in the bathroom, where germs abound, and the lotion itself may make your hands greasy and slippery – not a great idea when handling sharp tools or hot pots!

Stay tuned for Part II of our Common Sense Kitchen Safety series, wherein we’ll look at washing your tools and pans.

~ Maggie J.