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Friday, March 18, 2011


I've raised all the kids to be enthusiastic cooks DESPITE my endlessly repeated mantra that cooking meat and milk products and tackling fresh produce should be approached like handling toxic waste. With extreme care, much washing and keeping things separate. Nobody in the family has ever got food poisoning, as a result, tho they are perhaps a tad over-anxious. Shrieking: get that raw chicken away from me (heheh). If you assume that every piece of meat you bring into the house is contaminated, it greatly simplifies your approach to it. You basically keep it double bagged, from the supermarket on, unwrap it in the sink after starting the water running to wash your hands after handling it. You keep the thermostat way high as well as having a temperature boost in your dishwasher (cold water washing is NOT your friend). You do not hand wash dishes, as water temperatures comfortable for hands will not kill germs.

Wood cutting boards kill germs, whereas plastic ones harbor them in the scratches, tho both should be scoured under hot water, ever if it dries out and eventually destroys the wood ones. We use salt on the wood ones periodically.

When growing vegetables, you find yourself using a LOT of water first soaking the dirt and bugs and (organic) manure off the ones you just picked for dinner. THen rinsing and shaking them dry. Don't be shy about this. If you worry about wasting water use the rinse water on the vegetable garden.

I have to admit that, with an outdoor hunting cat I worry a bit about toxoplasmosis and check carefully. I sprinkle red pepper in any spots I worry she might mess (ie: loose soil)near flower or vegetables. So far, so good. Deters.

People who keep pets obviously also have to watch out for worms of every type. QUite clean pets, given their monthly toxic drops between the shoulder blades against ticks and fleas, can still pick up worms of every variety on walks or from the bite of an adventurous flea.

I have to admit, on cooking techniques, I long ago abandonned gourmet for safety. No raw seafood ever (fish often is writhing with tapeworms, not to mention invisible pathogens), no raw or undercooked meat. My meat is usually overcooked or stewed and seasoned to make up for it.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I am not a paranoid cook. I wash my hands before cooking but that's about it. I eat produce straight from the store on my way home if I'm hungry.

And the only time I've had food poisoning (twice) was from restaurant food.

A little bit of dirt builds your immune system. :)

I'm very careful in the kitchen. Lots of disinfecting. Plastic cutting boards only. Clean the vegetables, ground beef cooked thoroughly, thaw the chicken under cold running water, don't use the knives to chop veggies after cutting meats. On and on.

I've only suffered food poisoning once that I know of. It was room service in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A hospital was literally next door to the hotel, but I needed an ambulance to get me there. I have never in my life been so sick.

I'm pretty careful in the kitchen, too.

You might reconsider the plastic cutting board thing. There's research suggesting that wooden cutting boards may be better because bacteria are far less able to survive in scratches on them then they are in plastic, probably due to something inherent in the wood to fight off bacteria.

What I do is a careful sequence in cutting-- start with something that's going to be eaten raw (salad ingredients, garnishes), then cooked vegetables, then meat last. I don't even use the same area of the counter to cut chicken.

All that said, the more I read about Modernist Cuisine the more dubious I am becoming, but yet I really want to get my hands on a copy and page through it. But not $4-5've run down some of the things they say about barbecue and find them interesting, but then ultimately wrong. They pick up on the importance of evaporation, apparently, and only partially understand the impact (unless they're not being fully quoted). Evaporation means that a large amount of energy in the initial stages is lost; only when the surface of the meat becomes drier does it begin to really seriously cook.

I draw a couple of lessons from this, one being that air-tight enclosed environments will not produce the same effects. Thus, a traditional pit and chimney, sending a lot of the moisture right out. And for that reason, these electric enclosed ovens being used in "modern" barbecue places produce inferior results in texture and every other way.

And the reaction of the authors of Modernist Cuisine? They recommend sous vide and some smoking. And their bbq ribs (pictured on the web in a dinner they staged at the book launch) look like some sort of industrial product, not barbecue.

So I'm dubious but I want to read the details for myself.

NMC, Interesting information. I'm going to look into the cutting board question. I won't be buying a copy of Modernist Cuisine anytime soon.

NMissC said:

"You might reconsider the plastic cutting board thing. There's research suggesting that wooden cutting boards may be better because bacteria are far less able to survive in scratches on them then they are in plastic, probably due to something inherent in the wood to fight off bacteria."

"Research suggesting? "

"...probably due to something inherent in the wood to fight off bacteria?"

When you have no idea what you're talking about, it's usually best to remain silent. Facts are your friends.

Clean cutting boards, plastic or wood, are the key to a safe cooking environment. Hot water, soap and a good scrubber will perform wonders.

Oh, yea. Cook your food to the proper temperature.


I searched after reading NMC's comment. Found this(italics mine):

Our safety concern was that bacteria such as Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Salmonella, which might contaminate a work surface when raw meat was being prepared, ought not remain on the surface to contaminate other foods that might be eaten without further cooking. We soon found that disease bacteria such as these were not recoverable from wooden surfaces in a short time after they were applied, unless very large numbers were used. New plastic surfaces allowed the bacteria to persist, but were easily cleaned and disinfected. However, wooden boards that had been used and had many knife cuts acted almost the same as new wood, whereas plastic surfaces that were knife-scarred were impossible to clean and disinfect manually, especially when food residues such as chicken fat were present. Scanning electron micrographs revealed highly significant damage to plastic surfaces from knife cuts. [...]
The project had been conducted before our work began. It revealed that those using wooden cutting boards in their home kitchens were less than half as likely as average to contract salmonellosis (odds ratio 0.42, 95% confidence interval 0.22-0.81), those using synthetic (plastic or glass) cutting boards were about twice as likely as average to contract salmonellosis (O.R. 1.99, C.I. 1.03-3.85); and the effect of cleaning the board regularly after preparing meat on it was not statistically significant (O.R. 1.20, C.I. 0.54-2.68). We know of no similar research that has been done anywhere, so we regard it as the best epidemiological evidence available to date that wooden cutting boards are not a hazard to human health, but plastic cutting boards may be.

This is, according to several sites I found, an area of continuing interest. One site quotes Alan Waterson B.Sc. (Hons) Dip Ed, Lismore, NSW – April 2002:

Camphor Laurel Timber, as tested here, was the most effective food preparation surface with regard to reducing microbial growth. This appears to be a result of the nature of wood in general, & the presence in this particular wood of anti-microbial substances, which are also known to occur naturally in edible products.”

And see this (p.3).

Galwayboy, here's what Harold McGee says about wooden cutting boards:


"It turns out that wooden cutting boards are good in a couple of ways — they're porous so they tend to soak up juices from cutting meats and fish, for example, and that carries the bacteria down into the cutting board where they're not at the surface anymore. And woods often contain anti-bacterial compounds in them so there's kind of a natural antibiotic in the surface of the wood. Plastic cutting boards are easier to clean and are safer to put in the dishwasher, for example, but they also will tend to develop scars and bacteria will lodge in the scars and cause problems later. So I actually have a couple of each and use both. When a plastic cutting board develops scars, I replace it."


This fits what I had read before I'd read Keys to Good Cooking, and, if you're going to say you're a greater authority than Harold McGee, I guess I'm going to ask who the hell you are.

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