I know, I know. It’s no fun to have rules. Especially when you’re trying to have a creative outlet like cooking, why should there be these extra rules holding you back? Well, while I’m not going to preach about every little thing, there are some things in the kitchen that can be pretty dangerous. If you’re new to cooking, you might not know some of these things. If you’re a seasoned home chef, I’m betting there’s something here that you’ve forgotten! Read on for these basic kitchen safety tips that everyone should know!
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Cook meats to proper temperatures
Raw meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, and eggs have the potential to be home to some microorganisms that would make you pretty sick if you ingested them. Luckily, they’re easy to kill! Cooking your meats to certain temperatures ensures that these bacteria are no longer harmful. It’s not necessary to take the temperature of an egg, since you can see when it’s fully cooked. However, to be the judge of a chicken breast or thick cut of pork, grab your meat thermometer and stick ‘er in! I use my meat thermometer every single day, and it was a small price to pay for daily peace of mind that my food is cooked properly. I prefer to use digital thermometers, since they’re less likely to break, read out faster, and are just so darn easy. You can snag your own by clicking here!
Cook your meats to AT LEAST these internal temperatures. Stick the thermometer in the thickest part, so that the end of the probe is in the center. (All temperatures in degrees Fahrenheit)
All ground meats: 160
Note: It’s possible to cook beef to lower temperatures in order to cook to your preferred “doneness”. Rare is 125, Medium Rare is 130-135, Medium 135-140, Medium-Well 140-150…But your safest bet is to eat beef well done. *This doesn’t apply to ground beef – always cook ground beef to 160 or more!
Don’t let food sit out too long before you properly store it away
While it’s important to initially cook food to the proper temperature, it’s also important to cool and store food. There’s a “temperature danger zone” in which bacteria thrive, and if something finds its way to your cooked food, it won’t matter what you’ve cooked it to if you’re just letting it sit out for hours.
Temperature Danger Zone: 41 – 135
Keep your meats and cooked foods out of this temperature range if at all possible. This also goes for foods that are meant to be refrigerated – don’t let them get too warm! If they’ve been sitting out for more than a couple hours, they might have been contaminated. It’s a safe bet to toss it.
Store food in proper containers that limit oxygen exposure.
Don’t cross contaminate
While it’s possible for raw meats to be contaminated, it’s much less likely that your fruits and vegetables will be. If you’re using a work surface that raw meat has touched, don’t use the same surface (cutting board, knife, utensils, hands, etc) on food that isn’t going to be cooked. Bacteria can cross-contaminate. It’s best to have two separate areas for raw meats and everything else. I live in a small apartment, so I only have one area to prep food. I usually prep all of my fruits and veggies first, set them somewhere safe, and then cut and season my raw meats. Anything the raw meat has touched goes directly into the sink and I wash my hands before touching anything else.
Use proper knife techniques when cutting
Hold the knife properly, use techniques like “the claw” and “the tunnel” to keep your fingers away from the blade, and keep your blade sharp. Use a cutting board that isn’t slipping around (a wet paper towel underneath will help to keep it steady). Cut a flat edge into your food so it isn’t rolling away while you’re slicing. Go slow – you don’t need to impress anyone with fast chopping skills!
Related Reading: Basic Knife Skills
Keep pot and pan handles to the side, not hanging over the edge of the stove
Whether you have one pan on the stove or three going at once, it’s a good idea to turn the handles so they’re facing the center of the stovetop. You can always turn them while you’re shaking it up or holding it steady to flip the food, but if you’re not touching it, turn ’em in! Leaving the handles turned so that they’re hanging over the edge of the stovetop is a disaster waiting to happen. I have a really narrow galley kitchen, and I can envision myself bumping into a handle and spilling stuff all over the place. More importantly, a young child might be inclined to grab the handle and pull. Now that is scary stuff. Save your kids, turn your handles in.
Use thick pot holders/oven mitts
I mean, I really don’t want to have to say this, but I’m going to. And it’s only because I somewhat recently reached for a pan with no mitts on, then realized what I was about to do. If something has been in the oven, or if the lid of a pot or pan is hot, you’re gonna need a pot holder or oven mitt between yourself and the hot surface. Sometimes we just get so into the groove of grabbing this and stirring that….that we forget really simple things like, “Hey, maybe don’t burn yourself.”
I personally love silicone oven mitts. They’re much more heat resistant that cloth ones. If the cloth ones get wet, they’re going to transfer heat like crazy, and you’ll get burned within seconds. Plus, cloth gets grimy and you have to throw them in the wash machine….Silicone can be washed right in the sink! Click here to check out a pair of recommended oven mitts!
Keep dish towels, oven mitts, and recipes away from open flame
Maybe we don’t think about it and just toss the dish towel on the counter, which happens to be near the stove, and it slides a bit. Maybe we’re constantly checking our recipe and need it nearby. Whatever the case, have a designated spot for these things. Keep ’em away from fire.
Unplug small appliances before disassembling, especially blenders
I know. I don’t want to have to say this one, either. And yes, I know the power is off. But maybe while you’re tilting the thing or turning it, your thumb hits the button just right. Wouldn’t it be easier to just unplug it before sticking your hand in there?
Store cleaning chemicals away from food
You don’t want to eat your cleaning chemicals. Keep them somewhere safe, like under the sink. All it takes is one leaky bottle stored next to or above the bread box…aaand you’re poisoned. 🙁 Have a designated spot, preferably down low in case of spills, and keep your chemicals there.
Hot oil and water don’t mix!
One way to test if oil in a pan is hot and ready to cook is by flicking a few drops of water in it. If it sizzles, it’s hot. But be careful – too many drops of water and it’ll be sizzling and spitting hot oil all over the place. When adding food into a pan of oil, pat it dry first. Don’t add liquid until the oil has been absorbed.
Keep baking soda handy for grease fires
That being said, if a fire starts because of grease or oil, it’s a bad idea to throw water on it! You’ll have a fire that’s spitting hot, burning stuff all over, ready to burn everything down. Eek!! In case of a fire on the stove, have some baking soda or a tight-fitted lid on hand to smother the flames. Having a mini fire extinguisher is a good idea, too.
The kitchen can be a dangerous place if you don’t know what you’re doing. Luckily, following really simple kitchen safety steps like this can prevent the risk of illness, burns, slips, cuts, and more. Don’t let the fear of these things stop you from cooking, either. I’ve talked to people who were so afraid to cook their own meats because they were worried about bacteria…but all they needed was a nice little meat thermometer and they’d have been totally fine! (Yes, I really did talk to someone who told me this!)
Have fun in the kitchen, and be safe. 🙂