Kitchen Hygiene Tips for Beginners and Everyday Home Cooks

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A photo of my vegetable crisper,
taken tonight for this post. 

Kitchen hygiene is probably the most essential thing to remember when you cook, and not only when you’re starting out. It might be funny when Evelyn Harper, mother in the hit TV show Two and a Half Men, says she killed her first husband because she’d kept fresh fish in a draw, but there is a serious side to this story. Essentially she killed her husband with food poisoning because she didn’t know how to store or use food correctly.

Hopefully you already know what Evelyn did wrong, but in case you are a total beginner, don’t keep fresh fish anywhere except a fridge! It is also okay to freeze it to keep it for longer, but only freeze it if its raw and never been frozen before. 

If you didn’t know this one tip then make sure you pay close attention to the rest of this post as I share some important information for beginner cooks, and some reminders for those of us who have been cooking a little longer. And yes, I have used this post to remind myself, because looking at the photo of the vegetable crisper I took tonight for this post, I need to remember a few rules too. Oops! 

So, dead husbands and raw fish aside, what do you really need to know about food hygiene? 

What is food hygiene? 

Well, for starters, what does food hygiene mean? 

Food hygiene is the term we use to refer to the way we clean our kitchen and our appliances as well as how we store our food or how we deal with leftover food. It includes knowing information about where and when to store foods as well as how to look after the leftovers so you don’t let the harmful bacteria grow. Too much bacteria leads to food poisoning and that’s the last thing you want when feeding your family or housemates. You don’t want to make yourself sick either.

Food hygiene is a serious issue that you need to pay attention to every time you enter the kitchen – whether that’s to make a snack, restock the groceries or to cook dinner for the family. Its something that when you pay a little bit of attention to now, you’ll know how to do it each time and you will begin to do it automatically.

General kitchen tips 

  • Change tea towels regularly – once a week if you rely mostly on a dishwasher and hardly use them, or every day or two if you use them for daily washing up. 
  • Have one tea towel to dry dishes and another tea towel to dry your hands on whilst cooking. The tea towel used while cooking will end up with food splatters on it and you don’t want to spread that to your newly washed and sterilized dishes. 
  • Any wash cloths, wiping cloths or sponges you use in the kitchen need to be rinsed and left to dry after use, but don’t leave them in a ball to dry.Lie them flat on the bench because if you scrunch them into a ball they tend to smell bad quickly and you need to replace them faster.
  • Cloths and sponges can be washed for multiple use. Check the packet of wipes/sponges you’re using before you do this though as yours might not be suited for washing. 
  • Use antibacterial handwash while cooking and in the kitchen. Regular soap is fine for bathrooms but in the kitchen its better to use something a little stronger.
  • Clean out the fridge and freezer regularly. Wipe out the shelves each week or two, but actually clean the shelves and draws with soap and warm water every month or two. 
Clean out the fridge, and in particular the crisper, regularly.
Otherwise you get a build up of water and other vegetable particles. 

Working with raw meat

  • Keep raw meat on the bottom shelf of the fridge.
  • Keep chicken and read meat in separate bags when in the fridge or freezer. 
  • Use a separate knife, chopping board or other utensil when preparing raw meat than you use for cooking the same meat. Raw and cooked meat juices should never mix so use different everything, even if it means more washing up.
  • If marinating raw meat, don’t keep the marinade to pour over the same cooked meat unless you also cook the marinade. Its preferable to just throw the marinade away.
  • Wash your hands between cutting and handling raw meat and doing other things (e.g. getting a plate out of the cupboard) as you’ll transfer the raw meat germs to other surfaces if you don’t. 
Use separate knives for separate uses, especially when working with raw meat.

Working with vegetables and beans
  • Its okay to use the same chopping board and knife or utensils for all your vegetables. My only advice is to wash the board or knife after chopping onions or garlic as they tend to smell strongly and other foods can take on their smells too. 
  • Rinse canned beans and lentils to wash away the salty brine, but make sure you then eat the beans or lentil within 2-3 days or they will start to create a white liquid that smells really bad. Throw them away immediately if they change in colour and smell.
  • Don’t leave leftover bean and lentils or other canned vegetables and products in the cans. Always place the contents into an airtight container or sealed bag as the air mixed with the metal can create a reaction in the food that is bad for you. 
  • Store leftover and odd sized pieces of vegetables in the crisper. If your crisper is working well you can just leave the vegetables in as they are, but if your crisper is not so good then keep the foods in the bags they come in.

Storing and reheating leftover food

  • Put leftovers in the fridge at the end of your meal, and don’t wait for them to cool down. Bacteria will grow if the food sits out at a warm temperature, so put the leftovers in the fridge or freezer straight after dinner. 
  • Put leftovers in airtight containers or sealed bags rather than leaving them in the cans or on plates. 
  • Label your leftovers with names and dates. This means you know exactly what it was you froze (food starts to look the same when covered in ice) and when. Most foods should only be used after about 3-4 months in the freezer. 

Keep leftovers labelled, and dated is even better.
Don’t store foods in the opened cans.
  • Use most leftovers from the fridge within 3 days, but if its rice, only 2 days.
  • When you heat the leftovers, make sure you heat it up so its hot and not warm, so you can kill any bacteria. 
  • If using the microwave to reheat leftover, cut the leftovers so they are spread into the corners of the plate as the inside of the food doesn’t cook to as high a temperature as the outsides, so place more food on the outsides. If its a bowl, pause the cooking and stir the bowl a couple of times. 

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