A HUGE part in cooking and baking as a profession, is the safety of the food. The public relies on professionals to properly handle, cook, and prepare food in a SAFE matter. FACT: Most restaurants and other food business will fail their health inspection. Why? Some "food rules" are very strict, causing a decline in the "delicious-ness" of the food and work enviroment.
I think of cooking and food rules similar to driving and driver's ed class in high school. Most Americans drive and we took a test to get our licence. Now, after the class and test we: drive fast, others slow, and some people drive while texting, talking on the phone, and eating. Most of us break driving laws on a daily basis. As long, as we "avoid" the big driving mistakes, we are OK...right?! (Depends on your point of view.)
This "theory" can be applied to food: There are a TON of food laws, which vary state-to-state, country-to-country, and your personal sanitation standards.
Read my top 5 "personal food" rules you can apply to your daily cooking and baking life:
1) If food is meant to be hot, KEEP IT HOT.
How do we define "hot?" By law, hot is 141 degrees F or higher. How can we keep food hot? In a professional kitchen, we have equipment that keep food hot for long periods of time.
In a domestic setting, your baking/cooking pans will keep your food hot. Thus, if you are serving anything that is meant to be hot (think: rice, proteins, veggies, poatoes, etc), it needs to STAY at 141 degrees F or higher.
In reality: Your hot food will drop below 141 degrees F. That is OK, most of us have consumed "some what" warm food. Your corrective action is to re-warm the food (put it back in the oven or re-cook it on the stove top). That also brings us to rule #2....
2) Toss out food if it has been sitting at room temp for over 4 hours.
Bacteria likes to grow between 41-141 degrees F (AKA: danger zone). Thus, if your potato salad is sitting outside, it is probably at 100 degrees F....a nice breeding ground for bacteria and making you feel no-so-great. My rule? If I have ANY type of food, with the exception of dairy-free baked goods, I toss it out after 4 hours. This "rule" mainly applies to buffets, dinner parties, and BBQs.
In reality: According to "food law," food can be in the "danger zone" a total of 4 hrs, accumulative. So, if your potato salad was only left outside for 1 hour, if you re-chilled it (to below 41 degrees F), you still can eat it and have 3 more "danger zone" hours on it. Overall, if I have food that has been outside all day in the warm sun, I would rather toss it than consume it.
3) If food is meant to be cold, KEEP IT COLD.
Just like hot food, we define cold as 40 degrees F or below. How do we keep out? In professional kitchens, we have equipment that keeps our food COLD. In a domestic setting, you have your fridge and homemade ice-baths to keep your food nice and cold.
In reality: I find it "annoying" to ice-bath everything that I make that is meant to be cold. Most of "us" (professionals) go back to Rule #2....food can be in the danger zone for 4 hours, accumulative. Thus, we can set out a tray of crudite, salads, fruit trays, and dressings without an ice-bath. You will see this a lot in buffets and BBQs.
4) Keep your eye out for PHF.
What is PHF: Potentailly Hazardous Foods. What makes a food, PHF? Any food that can bread bacteria, causing people to become ill, and requires time temperature control, like I mention in the previous 3 rules.
Here is the big list of PHF from the FDA:
Meat (beef, pork, lamb)
Poultry (chicken, turkey, duck)
Shellfish and crustaceans
Eggs (except those treated to eliminate Salmonella)
Milk and dairy products
Heat-treated plant food (cooked rice, beans, or vegetables)
Certain synthetic ingredients
Cut Tomatoes (when pH is 4.6 or above)
Cut Leafy Greens
Tofu and soy-protein foods
Untreated garlic and oil mixtures
Cut melons, including watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew.
SO: PHF List + rule #1, #2 and #3 = What you really need to worry about. (esp. in a professional setting)
It is OK if your food, that is not on the list, stays at room temp over 4 hours, or "is inside" in the danger zone for hours. (Don't worry, my chocolate chip cookies don't last long that 2 hours when I bake 'em!)
5) Cool foods 100% before storing.
This is a biggie: When we store leftovers in containers, the food itself needs to be 40 degrees F or below. Most of us do not. This is easy to do: put your leftovers in a shallow pan (like a brownie pan) for a couple hours before storing it in a container.
-Keep PHF out of the danger zone as much as you can!
-The only "real" way to know the temperature of a food, is to purchase a kitchen thermometer and temp your food! Most of us, even myself, rely on time, touch, and visual appeal of the food to tell us if the food is done cooking. Example: If I am cooking chicken breast at home, and it has been in the oven for over one hour...it is probably done. If I am cooking chicken breast in a professional setting, my thermometer will "tell me" once the food is done, even if it has been in the over for over one hour.
-Yes, we will eat food that is not truly "hot or cold." We cannot avoid that.
-Cool foods before storing!
-If you have PHF, that have been sitting out all day, you need to toss 'em for safety sake!
Overall, food and safety laws can get confusing. The best way is to familiar yourself with YOUR state's and county's food laws. See what which laws applies to your cooking and baking and how you can apply them. Am I saying every home cook needs a super pricey thermometer and starting a temp log and journal? Naw. Just be aware of your food and how you are serving it.