Proper Food Handling – Easy and better than the alternative


12 Jun Proper Food Handling – Easy and better than the alternative

Get well soon.

I had hoped to use the alphabet pasta for something fun. I’d imagined a game of Soup Scrabble with friends or seeing who can find the most cuss words fastest. Instead, I’m cooking a handful of random letters in tinned consommé and calling it dinner. Why? On the weekend my husband got food poisoning and it’s all he’s allowed. Well, that and bananas or rice crackers and those get old quickly.

Now before you jump to any conclusions, I am in no way responsible for his condition. It was not my cooking. It was not my kitchen hygiene. It wasn’t even something the cat dragged in. (Relax. They are indoor cats and have never killed anything other than the lint attachment on the vacuum.) What happened? We have no proof, but suspect some dodgy restaurants he ate at without me. Men!

While we’ll never know for sure what downed him, we do know what the culprit is and can back that up with paperwork. The lab results are back and campylobacter is to blame. Anyone who’s experienced this intestinal bug first-hand knows it’s no fun. Thanks in advance for your sympathy. Anyone who hasn’t…. Well, let’s just say my wish for you is that you remain blissfully ignorant. Forever.

Campylobacter is a common form of food poisoning. According to Health Canada and the Centre for Disease Control, it’s most often picked up through poultry, raw milk and mountain streams. My husband doesn’t drink milk (raw or pasteurized) and considers sitting outside on the patio “roughing it.” That leaves poultry —  the one thing I’m meticulous about.

I’m not much of an alarmist and I hate finger wagging, but my vacation to Calgary got cut short because of this nasty little critter and I’m going to indulge. Sure, I wasn’t the one who was sick, but did I mention the trip was supposed to be part of my 50th birthday? So, excuse me while I find the soap box.

Proper Food Handling

I know. I know. Proper food handling is important for everyone. Every day. All the time. It’s going to be even more so in our house for the next little while, since my husband is going to be a) paranoid and b) vulnerable to germs. The good news. It’s not hard to put into practice. So, follow these steps. It could save your health, your sanity and if you’re lucky, it could save your vacation.

  1. Wash your hands before you begin to prepare food. You’ve likely patted the cat, touched a door handle, opened a letter that’s passed through a dozen hands, counted out money or tied the laces on the shoes you wore walking your dog. Wash your hands before you pull out the cutting board and knife. Enter the kitchen. Wash your hands. Make it a habit.
  2. Wash your hands after you touch raw animal products. This includes seafood, fish, chicken, pork, beef, lamb, egg whites and raw milk, as well as the packaging, juices, ice it sat on…
  3. Wash any surface that touches raw animal products. Think beyond the cutting board. Did your chicken touch a knife, plate, counter top, or sink? If you defrosted the chicken in the sink (in cold water) wash it out. If you carried raw chicken to the barbecue on a plate, deliver the cooked chicken on a new plate. Wash that knife before you cut anything else. You get the idea.
  4. Toss any washables that came in contact with raw animal products into the laundry once you’re done cooking. This includes aprons, dish towels, washcloths and floor mats (if you dripped). It’s counterproductive to wipe your clean hands on a towel or apron that harbours chicken juice.
  5. Keep a cutting board dedicated to raw meat if you don’t trust yourself (or other family members). Wooden cutting boards are best since they don’t dull your knives and are naturally antibacterial. Sterile-looking plastic may seem more hygienic, but it’s not. If keeping a raw-meat-only cutting board is too much to ask, get in the habit of cutting the onions, vegetables and any other non-animal item first, then cut the meat.
  6. Cook poultry properly. By properly, I mean it’s no longer pink inside and the juices run clear. If you’re cooking a whole bird, remember, the thigh takes longer than the breast. Use a meat thermometer if you’re not sure. Double-checking with Food, poultry should read 165°F (74°C). Once the bird reaches this temperature, you don’t have to cook it any  longer. The germs are already dead. Don’t kill dinner as well. Oh, and wash that thermometer after you’re done shoving it into the bird — even if it is thoroughly cooked.
  7. Wash your hands after you clean up after your pets even if you aren’t going anywhere near the kitchen. You will touch lots of surfaces in your home and then… well… guess what’s waiting for you patiently on the coffee table, front door handle, newel post.

Had enough? No so fast! We’re not done yet. Recent studies show most people (as in 95%) don’t wash their hands adequately. You need to use soap, get between all your fingers and scrub – really rub hard —  for at least 15 seconds. In lay terms, that’s two rounds of Happy Birthday. Yeah, I know. Ironic, isn’t it?

  • Lisa MacColl
    Posted at 01:46h, 13 June Reply

    Oh poor Andrew. Food poisoning…first you think you’re going to die, and then you’re afraid you’re not. My husband gave himself food poisoning last year right before Mothers Day…no fancy brunch for me…

    I got food poisoning on the way TO a conference once. Note to self, cheese and a bagel from the bus terminal was a bad idea…

    Get well soon, Andrew. Charmian, charge wine to room service, and welcome to club 50. I paved the way for you at the beginning of the year.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 13:52h, 13 June Reply

      Lisa, you described it quite well. He has decided to live and is now at the stage where he’s making all sorts of jokes. Juvenile jokes, but jokes. I shudder to think what words he would spell out with the alphabet soup.

      Welcome to Club 50. I had no idea I kept such good company! Here’s to a fabulous year to us both.

  • Heather Wright
    Posted at 12:06h, 13 June Reply

    My husband had the same thing, but he got it while inspecting a chicken processing plant. Uncontrollable shakes and other stuff you don’t want to know about. Took more than a week before he was even crawling close to being well again. Our doctor’s advice: Forget the BRAT diet and give him lots of fluids and whatever he feels like eating.Your food handling advice is excellent. Hope Andrew is feeling better soon. You have a great decade a head of you! Enjoy!

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 13:56h, 13 June Reply

      Oh Heather, the irony of catching campylobacter during an inspection. Your poor husband. Sounds like his dose was worse. He’s coming up to a week and is much better, but still not ready to leave the property — if you know what I mean. And I’m afraid you do.

      He’s getting plenty of fluids. He can’t stomach anything beyond BRAT — even smelling food upsets him. So we have lots of crackers, soup, bananas and drinks on hand. I’m just grateful for modern medicine and the person who invented the IV!

  • Jill Silverman Hough
    Posted at 20:12h, 13 June Reply

    When I was a big-time Madison Avenue advertising copywriter–okay, technically our office was between Fifth and Madison–I was taught that a well-written piece of copy should always end with a joke, a smile, some little treat for the reader who stuck with you all the way to the end. That’s what you did up there, with the Happy Birthday irony.


    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 23:22h, 13 June Reply

      Jill, that’s the nicest thing I’ve heard in ages. Thanks so much! I admit I can’t resist a good one-liner, but there have got to be easier ways.

  • Maggie
    Posted at 23:28h, 21 June Reply

    You can’t go wrong if you treat poultry as is it is poison while it is still raw.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 00:01h, 22 June Reply

      I hadn’t thought of it that way, but that certainly simplifies things. My husband would certainly agree with that analogy! Thanks!

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