It turns out that my Safety and Sanitation class is more cool and exciting than I thought it would be. Of course, it helps that I have a great instructor who is passionate (srsly!) about sanitation, knows her stuff, and cares that we're learning and are comfortable with the information. I'm learning a lot in this class, probably more than my other classes. Allow me to share with you some of what I've learned.
One thing she said during the first week of class surprised me, but really it shouldn't. You're more likely to get a foodborne illness at home than from commercially prepared food. Yep. You are. And it makes sense. Professional kitchens are crazy in love with sanitizers. After dishes are washed, they are thoroughly sanitized with either a chemical or 185 degree water. It's unlikely most people do that at home. As well, foods are heated and cooled properly at home and professional cooks are cautious of The Danger Zone. Do you know what The Danger Zone is? No, silly. I'm not talking about the Kenny Loggins song from Top Gun. It the range of 41 degrees F to 135 degrees F, where bacteria flourish, thrive and are generally very, very happy. We use ice baths, ice spikes and other measures to cool foods down very quickly. Putting hot food into a refrigerator, especially at home, will generally warm up the inside if the fridge and put everything else in jeopardy. Crazy, huh?
We all know that our county has rules about cheeseburgers being cooked at least medium well, that most places ban raw (unpasteurized) dairy products, and you're not supposed to eat meat, fish and eggs that aren't cooked thoroughly. But how many of us know why?
And I know what you're thinking. I really do. Because I was thinking the same thing the first couple days of class. "Eeeeew. I'll never be able to eat again!" "OMG. My professor said diarrhea!" But here are a few things to think about.
1. Think about how many times you've eaten and NOT gotten sick. Really. I'll bet it's, like, a lot.
2. Sure, you like food. But I'll bet I can name two things you like more than food. Not vomiting. And not having diarrhea. Am I right?
3. The more you know, the more likely you are to not make your family and friends sick.
I've been studying up on what seems like a million foodborne illnesses, most of which I've never heard of. We all know the big ones, right? Botulism, salmonella, E. coli. That's just the tip of the microbial iceberg, peeps.
Listeria. I'd heard of it. I knew that something something Listeria something pregnant women something. You can get it from raw dairy products, raw meat and ready to eat foods like hotdogs and deli meat. So what's the deal with Listeria and pregnant women? If a pregnant woman gets Listeria, the symptom is...miscarriage. Damn. That's serious. In little kids, it causes sepsis, pneumonia, and meningitis. Not all foodborne illness makes you puke.
Not only do you get Botulism from dented cans, but you can get it from a baked potato that wasn't cooled right. If you're making baked potatoes ahead of time, to be reheated, for the love of all things holy, DO NOT wrap those puppies up in foil. Botulism likes that. A lot. The less oxygen, the more Botulism. Did you also know that if you don't seek medical attention, it'll kill you? There was an episode of Dr. Quincy, ME about it.
You're more likely to get E. coli from produce than from meat. Frail Voiced Vegan Girl is in this class. She thinks she's immune to foodborne illness because she doesn't consume animals. Wrong! Wasn't there an E. coli outbreak a few years ago that was traced back to green onions? It's always the green onions! And lettuce. And tomatoes. And and and.... Oh, yeah. Sprouts. That's a big one.
Clostridium perfringens gastroenteritis. Like, what? This is carried in the intestines of both animals and humans. It loves The Danger Zone (41-135F). You usually get diarrhea and severe abdominal pain. Here's the best part...commercially prepared foods are not often involved in outbreaks. Straight from my book. It's commonly linked to meat and poultry and foods containing meat and poultry, like soups and stews. Next time you make chili at home, and you get, uh, a little rumbly afterwards, it's not the beans that are bothering you.
Bacillus cereus is a bacteria that produces two different toxins. It's the toxins that make you sick. The each cause an illness. One makes you throw up. The other gives you diarrhea. You can get this from cooked rice, like fried rice and rice pudding. Milk, meat and cooked veggies can also carry this. This can be prevented by heating and cooling foods properly and holding food at the right temperature. Think cookout or church picnic. Don't let that stuff sit out for more than 4 hours.
Did you know you can get a staph infection from food? You can. Staphylococcal bacteria are carried on the body, including the nose, hair, throat and infected cuts. You can transfer the bacteria by rubbing your nose then mixing the pasta salad by hand. If the bacteria is allowed to grow, it'll produce a toxin that'll make you sick. Cooking will not destroy this toxin.
Shigella can be transferred from feces to food by people who don't wash their hands. It can also be transferred to food by flies. (Again with the cookout!) It'll give you bloody diarrhea and abdominal pain and cramps. Charming.
Norovirus and Hepatits A can be transmitted from ready-to-eat food contaminated with feces and from shellfish from contaminated waters. Hepatitis A however is a vaccine preventable disease.
Our old friend Salmonella. Yes, you can get this from chicken and eggs. Did you know that you can also get this from beef and dairy products as well as produce? The best way to prevent this is to prevent cross-contamination. Buy color coded cutting boards and be strict about it. Sanitize. Wash hands and equipment if you're in doubt. I knew someone who got this and is now horribly lactose intolerant as a result.
If you eat shellfish, you're in for a treat. Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning. Amnesiac Shellfish Poisoning. Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning. They're pretty self explanatory. This happens when bottom feeding shellfish dine on toxic algae. Cooking, freezing, etc. doesn't prevent this. This freaks me out a little. Do you have any idea how much I love mussels?
Anasakis is a parasite you get from raw or undercooked fish. It has two symptoms. A tingling in the throat. Coughing up worms. Let me give you a minute to reread that. Coughing. Up. Worms. I've actually seen this in halibut I ordered years ago in a restaurant where I worked. I didn't know what it was, but I knew I wasn't going to serve this halibut to my guests for $25 a plate. (I sent it back) They are little round, pinky-yellow worms that make you cough up more worms.
I still have a few more flash cards, but I think you get my point. Cooking at home, being vegetarian, buying organic, none of this makes you immune. Heat and cool your food correctly. Wash your hands. Cover your hair. Wash your gadgets and cutting boards thoroughly. Buy food from stores you trust. Don't buy clams from some toothless redneck selling them from the back of his rusty 1974 Ford pickup. Ask your meat and fish guy where their products come from. This helps prevent foodborne illness. Burying your head in the sand because diarrhea is icky is bad.
This class that I previously thought was going to be lame will be one of the most useful I will take in culinary school. This is really good information. I'm still nervous about my test on Tuesday, but I'm feeling better about it. If you want to do more reading on the subject, here's a link to the CDC's page.