Safety First & Forever

No matter what activities we undertake, it’s good to focus on safety first, a focus that can last forever. In the kitchen, I’m always mindful of washing my hands, cleaning vegetables and fruit, and disinfecting any surface that comes into contact with raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs. And of course, I’m careful to avoid cross-contact with gluten. I also make sure I cook ingredients to a safe internal temperature.

I grew up on a farm. Most of our meat was home grown. We fattened cows and sometimes pigs, then took them to a butcher. A 12 cu ft deep freeze in the shed held a variety of packages wrapped in white butcher paper and stamped with the name of the cut enclosed. Once the meat came out of the freezer, we were meticulous about food safety.

By that, I mean meticulous to the point that our meat was overcooked pretty much every meal. This was deliberate…for safety. As an adult, I’ve enjoyed sushi and prepared sushi-grade tuna to be eaten raw at home. I’ve occasionally gobbled up steak tartare.

But when I’m cooking, I continually have to fight the urge to cook meat, poultry, and seafood to the stage of leather. I’m not as obsessive about eggs. I love a warm, runny yolk. To resist my early training, I keep multiple meat thermometers on hand. And I use them regularly.

In spite of that, I feel an internal struggle when the thermometer registers a safe temperature, but my eyes see pink. And don’t even think about serving me a rare hamburger in a restaurant. I will send it back in a heartbeat.

My mind understands that the romaine salad on which my steak is sometimes perched could pose an equal danger of E. coli. But my visceral response is to recoil from any and all red steak. Light pink feels like a much safer option and no pink, just right – until I take a bite.d

I can’t say I regret this struggle. Erring on the safe side isn’t bad for my health, it’s just bad for the aesthetics of the food. That’s why I make a conscious effort to balance my instincts with reason and use the tools I have to determine safety first, but not instead of, quality.

If you’re uncertain of the safe minimum internal temperature for meat, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service provides a chart on its website. The temperatures vary by type and cut of meat. The charts were updated a few years ago, so don’t be alarmed if you find some of the numbers lower than you’d expect. And don’t forget to include the recommended rest times. The temperature of the meat will continue to rise as it rests.

Reviewing these charts is a way for me to relearn old habits and retrain my brain. This is a great reminder of my I like cooking. It offers so many opportunities to learn, and I love learning. But no matter how much my knowledge expands, I’ll always default to safety first!

Shut the Front Door!

Shut the front door! You could be one fall away from a new dishwasher. A few months ago when I posted guidelines for kitchen safety, it appears I missed some things. I’m going to remedy that now.

Late in the afternoon a couple of days ago, I unloaded the top racks of the dishwasher. The phone rang. I left the door open with the bottom rack pulled halfway out and returned to my desk to take the call. After that, I did some related email follow-up.

By then, it was evening and I was hungry so I grabbed some leftovers out of the fridge and ate them on the couch in front of the news which led to an idea for a blog post. Dirty dishes forgotten, I picked up my laptop and started writing.

Once I finished much of a draft, I stopped working and started watching a documentary series on the brain. Apparently, I was either very tired or not all that interested…I fell asleep. About 10:30 I woke up and walked through the dark kitchen on the way upstairs for bed.

Then I walked back because I realized I was definitely thirsty & possibly a little hungry. I didn’t bother to turn on the light. There’s a totally obnoxious security light at the church next door that shines in my kitchen windows. It seemed bright enough for the tasks at hand. After all, I was in familiar territory.

In the process of getting a glass and a knife, I groggily followed the familiar path from the peninsula to the silverware drawer. I turned around to go back to my most used prep surface next to the stove, the peninsula, and suddenly I was prone on my stomach arms stretched out and something was making a crashing noise.
front door
Those moments are always so weird. You feel and hear what’s happening, but your mind is trying to catch up to both the events and their significance while your body is simultaneously registering and masking what is happening to it. It all feels like it happens incredibly fast but also like you’re in slow motion.

As I realized I had full body fallen face-first onto the dishwasher door, I also realized I didn’t really feel like I was hurt. Of course, I wasn’t sure. I stood up, turned on the light, and observed that my lower left shin had a knot on it. That seemed to be the only thing hurting so I moved on to assess the damage to the kitchen.

My first thought after I realized what was happening had been crap, I’m going to have to buy a new dishwasher! Soooo, that was correct. I pushed the bottom rack back into the dishwasher and tried to shut the door. Not only would it not latch, it wouldn’t go near the latch without significant force.

That came as no surprise. What did surprise me was that lying on the floor a few feet away was a section of the silverware basket complete with a sharp knife tip sticking out of the top. Of course, that’s when you get scared. Your body has relaxed a bit and your mind suddenly recognizes how bad this could have been.

That portion of the silverware basket was literally broken off. I must have hit it with my left hand, causing it to break? I have no idea. I’m just exceedingly grateful that I didn’t land on the knife with my wrist, neck, face, or eye. Any of those were possible given the circumstances.

I checked and rechecked to make sure I wasn’t bleeding and just hadn’t noticed given the surprise and shock. I was not. I reached into the freezer, pulled out some corn to put on my shin, got the laptop, and reclined on the couch with my foot elevated.

Laptop, you may ask? Naturally, I was no longer sleepy so I decided to research dishwashers. A couple of years ago I wrote a post for in which I listed the features to look for in appliances. Of course, I started with my number one dishwasher difference-maker—the third rack.

I’ve had a third rack dishwasher for the past 12 or 13 years. I use that extra every single load and I love it! It’s the perfect place for large knives, serving spoons, spatulas, small measuring cups, kitchen shears, and more. Mine is somewhat shallow. The Bosch version is deep enough to accommodate shallow bowls.

This time, I’m going to add bottle washer jets. These were not available in any price range I considered last time around and back then I didn’t have grandchildren. Now that I do, I’m thrilled I’ll be able to place their bottles on a jet that will spray directly into the bottle and get it squeaky clean!

Online, I narrowed the field to the Bosch 800 series and a couple of KitchenAid models, but I wanted to see some in person. Walking into the store last night, I was leaning toward the quieter rated Bosch. I went down the line opening dishwasher after dishwasher.

I like the handle shape of the Bosch SHXM88Z75N. It has the features I want, plus a leak sensor that sounds like a smart perk. And yet, I ended up purchasing a KitchenAid KDTM404ESS. When I tugged and pulled on the parts inside, it just felt more solid. It was also less expensive and on sale.

Until the end of next week, I’m washing dishes by hand. That will serve as a reminder to follow the safety guidelines I previously failed to mention: always turn on the light if it’s dark, place any sharp knives that must point up at the back of the silverware basket, and shut the dishwasher door!

Be safe out there!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Holiday Baking – Keep it Safe!

shortbreadI’m getting ready to begin some holiday baking and I want to make sure I keep it safe! Yes, that means I’m going to try not to burn the cookies to a crisp like I did a cheesecake crust at Thanksgiving. And yes, it means I’ll try to keep my paper towels away from the burner flame when I’m melting chocolate. Okay, I’ll try not to drop a knife by my toe either; but even more importantly, I’m going to check for food recalls before I begin.

If you’ve watched the news at all this year, you have probably seen numerous food recalls. I remember seeing one involving natural peanut butter. Since peanut butter cookies are on my baking list, I want to make sure that the natural peanut butter in my pantry is not the one I saw on the news. The fastest way I know to find out is to visit the FDA website
recall list
A quick review of the site this morning assured me that my peanut butter is not on the list. It also reminded me that the most common sort of recall seems to be a failure to include some ingredient or other on a label. Sometimes this sounds serious. Other times it’s a bit comical, like when a company has to recall edamame because they failed to note it contains soy. It IS soy for cryin’ out loud, but maybe it’s good to make sure we know that.

One of the most common reasons for recall in the current FDA list is failing to note that a product contains nuts of some sort – walnuts, peanuts, etc. If you are severely allergic to nuts, it is probably wise to avoid all processed food all the time since the failure to label their inclusion appears to happen with an uncomfortable frequency.

In addition to periodically checking the FDA site, I am a vigilant washer of fruits and vegetables. I know it may seem silly to wash an orange if I’m just going to throw away the peel, but I do it anyway. My mom once had a fungus growing in her lungs that was attributed to orange peel. Whether that was the real culprit or not, it was enough to convince me that taking the time to wash the produce was not too inconvenient. An, of course I’ll make sure my cutting boards and countertops are clean before I start slicing fruit and rolling dough.

Now that I’ve done my homework to keep it safe, it’s time to get in the kitchen and do some baking! I can’t wait to smell warm cookies in the oven.

Have fun preparing your holiday treats & keep it safe in the kitchen!

A list of recent recalls is also available here:

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”